There are bad Buddhists and false Buddhist claims

Paul Fuller’s thoughtful and well researched new introduction to Engaged Buddhism cites my Disengaged Buddhism article together with an article I hadn’t heard of before, Victor Temprano’s 2013 “Defining engaged Buddhism” (Buddhist Studies Review 30.2). (Fuller has very kind words for both Temprano and myself.) I proceeded to read Temprano’s article and was quite struck by it – and by the fact that Fuller had listed our two articles together, as making complementary critiques. Fuller’s putting our two articles together is striking to me because, while Temprano and I do both make a critique of Western engaged Buddhist scholars like Sallie King and David Loy, we do so for entirely different reasons – reasons that are actually opposed to one another. And indeed, I think my differences from Temprano are larger than my differences from King and Loy.

Temprano directs his critique against the kinds of claims that I made in my article’s section on method. Temprano and I both note that engaged Buddhist scholarship has a strong normative dimension, as for example when King says “it is easy to take expressions of contempt and acts of violence as criteria for discerning what is not a valid expression of the Dharma” (Socially Engaged Buddhism 25-6, her emphasis). But Temprano takes this normative dimension to be a problem, something wrong with scholarship like King’s. I do not.

Temprano correctly claims that “Loy’s and King’s definitions are, after all, not merely different ways of accounting for the origins of engaged Buddhism, but ways of defining what true Buddhism really should be.” Where he goes wrong in his followup:

The resulting denunciation, judgment, and exclusion of threatening Buddhisms expresses the deep sense of authority that academics can feel in regards to their ability to concretely define who is and who is not a Buddhist. Yet Buddhists are practicing diverse traditions already; there is no need to present certain forms as somehow more ideal than others. (268, his emphasis)

Isn’t there, though? Consider the Burmese monk Wirathu. When lynch mobs composed of Burmese Buddhists were killing hundreds of Muslims and driving hundreds of thousands more from their homes, Wirathu called the Muslims “troublemakers” and said “You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog.” He added that “Muslims are like the African carp. They breed quickly and they are very violent and they eat their own kind.” As riots grew worse he proclaimed to his followers that “Now is the time to rise up, to make your blood boil.”

Wirathu preaching against Rohingya Muslims

Wirathu is a self-identified Buddhist, and one who has gone through all the traditional and institutional requirements necessary to become a monk. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Wirathu is not a Buddhist. (I don’t feel a strong need to take a position on whether he counts as an engaged Buddhist; Fuller reasonably argues that he does.) But I would agree with King, contra Temprano, that Wirathu is a bad Buddhist – that his form of Buddhism is indeed less ideal than others. His preaching of anger, hate and violence goes against all the normative ideals that King and I have learned, as Buddhists, from Buddhist tradition. We believe in Buddhist ideals that say what Wirathu is doing is wrong, pāpa.

And so, we would argue, there is a need to present Wirathu’s Buddhism as bad Buddhism. Temprano makes no argument for his claim that there isn’t; it is a non sequitur to move from the existence of different Buddhist traditions to the claim that none is better than others, unless one is going to make the a priori assumption that nothing is ever better than anything else. (Indeed, the way Temprano puts his argument, one could just as easily turn it around against him: “Buddhologists are practising diverse methods already, including normative ones; there is no need to present a non-normative Buddhology as somehow more ideal than the normative kind.”) If one were already committed to a position of strict neutrality, then that would imply that one should not say one person’s Buddhism is better than another’s. But King clearly is not so committed, and neither am I.

Should we be? Temprano never makes a convincing case for such neutrality. (Few ever have.) At several points in his article Temprano recognizes that King and Loy are both scholars and practitioners, but at other points he bifurcates these two identities such that they can or should never meet: “The question of whether or not a practice is truly Buddhist is largely a question for practitioners to debate, not for scholars to determine.” (269) Or, “The condemnation of violence as not simply bad, but as un-Buddhist, is a judgment that Buddhists must make, not a judgment for scholars to disseminate to a global society through the academy.” (273) Temprano has already admitted that we are both Buddhists and scholars. Why should it not be the case that the two inform each other?

Here Temprano claims:

When scholastic and secular authority, embodied in the symbolic capital accrued by King and Loy upon completing Ph.Ds and becoming widely published, is directed towards supporting and authorizing one Buddhist tradition and towards denigrating and delegitimizing others, it is entirely a different beast than squabbles between religious traditions themselves. Evaluations of religious traditions end up relying mostly on personal prejudices, and ignore entirely the reality that Buddhists of different traditions legitimately practice in a vast variety of different, and even opposing, ways. (273, emphasis in original)

In the first sentence, Temprano says that King and Loy “delegitimize” views and practices like Wirathu’s. In the last, he is effectively claiming that Wirathu practices “legitimately”. Since this latter claim directly contradicts the statement that his opponents are making, one would expect to find an argument for it, but there is none. As far as I can tell, Temprano’s only ground for believing groups like Wirathu’s “legitimate” is that they exist. But anti-vaxxers and flat earthers also exist. The existence of false beliefs is well documented. The mere existence of such beliefs does not make them legitimate! Are we delegitimizing Wirathu? Damn right we’re delegitimizing Wirathu. Why aren’t you?

Among far too many religion scholars, it is an article of faith – in the most pejorative sense of that term – that all traditions and all sides of a tradition are legitimate; the illegitimate thing, supposedly, is to arbitrate between them. This article of faith is self-contradicting, and the house of cards on which it is built rapidly falls. For the claim itself delegitimizes those of us within the tradition who do believe that one side of a “squabble” is better than another and that there are good reasons to take that side over the other. In so delegitimizing us, it takes a side, and thus does exactly what it claims to reject. As a result, this article of faith is incoherent nonsense, and should be expunged from the field of religious studies wherever it appears (which is all too frequently).

Temprano really gives that game away when he claims that “Evaluations of religious traditions end up relying mostly on personal prejudices.” In saying this, as far as I can tell, all he is doing is revealing a personal prejudice of his own. For he provides not the slightest bit of argument of evidence for this claim. It is a claim dripping with implicit contempt for us Buddhist practitioners, whether Western, Asian or otherwise: the beliefs we take as central to our traditions are so disconnected from objective reality that objective scholarly claims cannot even be made about them; our belief comes down to mere personal prejudice, and must remain so. And it does not take much examination to reveal this claim of Temprano’s to be false.

Is our consciousness reborn after death? Ian Stevenson provided some empirical evidence to suggest objectively that it is. Evan Thompson critically examined Stevenson’s evidence and found it insufficient to prove the point. Both Stevenson’s and Thompson’s claims are claims about the objective truth of a key Buddhist doctrine, made with the standards of scholarly rigour that are our best route to objective truth in any field.

Likewise, the theory of evolution, if true, logically implies that the literal interpretation of Genesis is objectively false; fundamentalists and biologists both rightly agree on that much, which is why the former reject the theory. Scholarly methods establish that theory of evolution is objectively true, as far as we can tell, and the literal interpretation of Genesis therefore false. One would have to be a truly extreme die-hard postmodern relativist to say that that point relies “mostly on personal prejudices”, and Temprano provides no indication that he swings in such a direction.

My objection to engaged Buddhist scholars is that so far their scholarship has not adequately lived up to standards of scholarly rigour; I wrote my article to encourage them to do so. Temprano, however, is telling them the opposite! He is telling them to abandon any attempt at objective truth and the rigour that leads to it, when it comes to normative claims made within Buddhist tradition. Instead he wants them to shut up and impose a radical bifurcation between their Buddhist selves and their scholar selves – in a way that reveals a patronizing contempt for the Buddhist part. And he does so for reasons that lack rigour themselves. Between all that and the engaged Buddhists, I’ll take the engaged Buddhists any day.

(As a final note on questions of authority: I would have felt bad about writing a piece this harsh, and would therefore have toned it down, if Temprano’s academic title was still “assistant to Arvind Sharma”, as it appears in the article. I would not want to punch down at a junior academic in a position that precarious. Fortunately for both of us, it appears that in the ensuing years Temprano, like me, has found gainful employment outside his academic specialty. I’m happy for him that that’s the case – and I also think he is therefore fair game for a lateral punch.)

Cross-posted at Love of All Wisdom.

19 Replies to “There are bad Buddhists and false Buddhist claims”

  1. Pingback: There are bad Buddhists and false Buddhist claims | Love of All Wisdom

  2. I only skimmed through the article so apologies if I misunderstood anything, but I think we can all agree that Islam is the antithesis of a tolerant society. The Koran, in no uncertain terms (Surat At-Tawbah 9:5) orders Muslims to kill infidels, in our case, Buddhists and Hindus (idolaters) .Now, does that give anyone, in a Buddhist country or otherwise, a license to murder Muslims or otherwise cause them unjustified suffering? No. Does it give people a license to be worried? Yes. In Sri Lanka, for instance, radical Islam carried out horrific attacks on Easter Sunday a couple years ago. Sri Lanka, as we all know, is a predominantly Buddhist country. Seeing atrocities like that take place (I’m aware that this was all after the episodes of conflict in other Buddhist countries with Islam, which proves my point) is it any wonder Buddhist monks are weary of living next door to Muslims? It is not. Not even an hour from my house a fresh convert to Islam was arrested by the FBI three years ago for planning to shoot up two synagogues. You never hear stories like that coming from Hindu, Jain, Sikh, or, you guessed it, Buddhists: in the west. In the East, I am willing to argue that the Buddhists are merely reacting against Islamic extremism (I’m well aware that many Muslims, especially the Ahmadiyya and Lahore Ahmadiyya view Jihad as an argumentative struggle, not a literal militaristic one) rather than merely expressing unfounded bigotry against their peers. Any layman will confirm that Muslims do, in fact, “eat their own kind”: what Islamic (Sunni) country permits Shia Muslims to worship freely or what Shia country allows Sunni Muslims to peacefully exist? As far as I am aware, none. In Pakistan, one can be executed and have one’s grave desecrated for merely being accused of being an Ahmadi Muslim, let alone an atheist like Christopher Hitchens. Also, there are videos all over the internet of Imams telling their congregation to not use birth control so that the religion spreads far and wide (the Catholic Church does this albeit not to this extent). So the monk is right. We need to understand the history of Islamic persecution of Buddhism and all other non Sunni faiths before we in the West can point and wag our fingers at monks like that. With the possible exception of Tibet, no country has ever been a true Buddhist theocracy. Even then the Dalai Lama’s powers were limited and not on the same level as an Ayatollah. Kashmir was once a Buddhist area: now look at it! It’s full of ISIS suicide bombers. Amazingly, some of Kashmiri terrorisms’ biggest supporters are Desi feminists and gays in western countries! A quick look around social media will confirm this. This is similar to what we see with Palestine: some of the most vocal anti-zionists at any given university are (in addition to being non-Arab, think of how many leaders of BLM chapters are white) self-described feminists and members of the LGBT community (ironic given Israel’s stance as the -only- pro-gay and pro-woman country in the Middle East). Before we condemn monks like this one, we must ask: how many Buddhists have attempted to blow up the Masjids in Mecca and Medinah?

  3. I had been hoping one of our esteemed bloggers would respond to this ignorant and remarkably biased and ridiculous comment, but since none have, I will.

    As for: “I think we can all agree that Islam is the antithesis of a tolerant society,” no, we cannot, and we should not, if only because what “Islam” means, implies, obligates, inspires, motivates, what have you, depends on one’s particular Islamic worldview in general and one’s lifeworld in particular, that is, the personal and often idiosyncratic or less systematic cluster of knowledge, beliefs, values, and ideals one more or less explicitly subscribes to which has some significant relation to the “official,” systematic, authoritative, dogmatic, institutional and other forms of Islamic worldviews that aim for a consistency and coherence or ideological presence in public fora.

    To sustain the aforementioned claim, the following is invoked on its behalf: “The Koran, in no uncertain terms (Surat At-Tawbah 9:5) orders Muslims to kill infidels, in our case, Buddhists and Hindus (idolaters).” Even a cursory attempt to research the interpretation and meaning of the lines from this surah would reveal that this is not how most Muslims in the past and today understand the meaning of this passage, which is excerpted here completely out of context, bearing in mind that Muslims have hermeneutic principles or methods of exegesis (tafsīr) which, in part, depend on when and where revelations to Muhammad the Prophet occurred and for what (sometimes arguable) purpose(s). As the Wikipedia entry on this verse states, it is “widely cited by critics of Islam to suggest the faith promotes violence against ‘pagans,’ (‘idolators,’ mushrikun) by isolating the portion of the verse ‘fight and slay the Pagans wherever you find them.’” Yet Quranic exegetes such as “al-Baydawi and al-Alusi explain that it refers to those pagan Arabs who violated their peace treaties by waging war against the Muslims.” In other words, the terms are in fact “uncertain” on first reading or glance should you dare to take this passage out of its original social and historical context. It does not incarnate or express a general, let alone universal principle, command, or obligation, and all but the most (innocently or willfully) ignorant and/or ideologically radical and implacable “Muslim” knows and understands this.

    Again: “According to several mainstream Islamic scholars, the verse relates to a specific event in Islamic history—namely that Arabian pagans made and broke a covenant with Arabic Muslims. They cite the verses immediately preceding and following 9:5, 9:4 and 9:6 [at the very least, but owing to the notion of ‘abrogation,’ their meaning is altered in other ways as well, which emphasize that] [o]nly “those pagans who broke the covenant were subject to violent repercussions so that any pagans who honored the covenant or repented their betrayal were to be spared. Commentating on the following verse, 9:6, Asma Afsaruddin [clarifies] the position of different early commentators, and the overall direction taken is that it concerns the Arab polytheists and doesn’t translate into indiscriminate killing.”

    Let me stand back a bit and explains some basic methods and principles of Quranic exegesis or hermeneutics or tafsīr, which involves is ‘ilm al-hadīth, fiqh (jurisprudence), kalām (theology), and falsafah (philosophy). (Thus ’bill’ has demonstrated innocent or willful ignorance on this score, rendering his comment useless by way of a meaningful contribution to explaining or discussing or debating the matter at hand.) We can outline this with an idealized and normative model of stages of same, which may vary on this or that point or differ in emphasis according to the legal tradition or traditions within Islamic jurisprudence as well as, relatedly, the particular form of Islam one identifies (e.g., Sunnī, Shī‘īte, or Sūfī, and there are theological and ethical differences within each of these traditions as well). So, schematically if not roughly:

    Stage 1: Encounter with the world of the text—A broad and general familiarization with the text(s) and its (their) world(s).

    Stage 2: Critical Analysis — (a) Linguistic considerations; (b) Literary context; (c) Literary form; (d) Parallel texts; (e) Precedents
    Stage 2—Here we are interested in what the text says about itself (its ‘self-referential’ character). This involves various fundamental analyses:
    1. Linguistic considerations: this entails analysis of the language of the text (linguistic units), semantics (the meaning of words and phrases involving features of the context, conventions of language use, and goals of the speaker), syntax of verse(s), and in general all linguistic and grammatical issues intrinsic to the text. It also covers different ways in which particular words and phrases can be read (qirā’āt).
    2. Literary context: how the text in question functions within a particular sūra and/or the Qur’ān as a whole. For instance, examining what comes immediately before or after the verse(s); the composition and structure of the text as well as its rhetorical style and qualities.
    3. Literary form: identifying whether the text is (largely or principally historical), has liturgical function (e.g., a prayer), is a proverb, a parable or other kind of narrative, or has a legal function. Detailing the connection between literary form and meaning (including, possibly, pragmatics: extra-linguistic context of utterance, generally observed principles of communication, goals of the speaker, presuppositions vis-à-vis new information, speech acts, implicature, etc.).
    4. Parallel texts: exploring whether there are other texts that are similar to the text under consideration in the Qur’ān and, if so, the extent to which they are similar and different.
    5. Precedent(s): identification of texts that are similar in content or import and whether these were revealed or inspired before or after the text under consideration.

    Stage 3: Meaning for the first recipients — (a) Socio-historical context; (b) Worldview; (c) Nature of the message: spiritual, theological, ethical, legal; (d) Message: contextual v. universal; (e) Relationship of message to overall revelatory message of the Qur’ān
    Relating the text to the recipients of the Qur’ān:
    1. Wider contextual analysis: historical and social information that would shed light on the text in question; analysis of the worldview, culture, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions of the first recipients of the Qur’ān in Hijāz (region in the northwest of present-day Saudi Arabia and includes the cities of Mecca and Medina). This analysis includes close examination of the time and place in which, for example, specific cultural, legal, political and economic issues arose.
    2. Determination of the nature of the message the text conveys: spiritual, theological, ethical, legal, etc.
    3. Exploration of possible layers of meaning: ‘outer’ and ‘inner,’ overt and implied, or specific and underlying messages of the text; investigation of whether or not the text has universal or simply contextual import and application in the context of the first recipient community. Are there different ways or means other than those specified that can accomplish the specific and clear reason, purpose, or goal of the text in question (e.g., punishment, deterrence, and mercy but without this prescribed form of punishment (which ‘made sense’ at the time and place of the first recipients of this revelation).
    4. Determination of where message the message is located in a hierarchy of values (metaphysical, devotional and ritual, legal, ethical, etc.).
    5. Consideration of how the message relates to the broader objectives and concerns clearly evidenced in the Qur’ān.
    6. Evaluation of how the text was received by the first community of Muslims and how they interpreted, understood and applied it.
    Stage 4:—Contemporary meaning — (a) Analysis of present context; (b) Contemporary context vis-à-vis socio-historical context; (c) Meaning through time: earliest recipients to the present; (d) Message: contextual v. universal; (e) Applicability to contemporary circumstances and conditions

    Stage 4—Relating the text to the contemporary context:
    1. Determining the current concerns, problems, and needs that appear to be relevant to the message of the under consideration.
    2. Exploring the present social, political, economic and cultural context relevant to the text.
    3. Exploring the specific values, norms, and institutions that have a bearing on the message of the text.
    4. Comparing the present context with the socio-historical context of the text under consideration, taking into account similarities and differences.
    5. Relating how the meaning of the text as understood, interpreted and applied by the first recipients of the Qur’ān and subsequent historical recipients to the present context, taking into account similarities and differences.
    6. Evaluating the universality or specificity of the message the text conveys and the extent to which it is related or unrelated to the well-known (i.e., uncontroversial within the tradition) broader objectives and concerns of the Qur’ān.

    Most of the last two stages (3 & 4) are not covered by classical tafsīr, and self-described radical “Jidhadists” would not adhere to this model, but they are exceptions to the rule and reveal, once more, religion(s) is what (are) people make of them.

    One can find unprincipled, violent, extremist and fanatical militants in more than a few religions around the globe, and on occasion, these become part of a nation-state’s regnant ideology, rendering them all that more dangerous (ethno- and religious nationalism being anti-Liberal and anti-democratic). But in the case of the vast majority of Muslims, this does not represent or define their worldviewiews/lifeworlds. Muslims can be, and in some cases are, Liberal democrats and faithful adherents of Islam. They can be, and often are, moral or ethical in their personal and public lives. “[B]ill” is suggesting or insinuating otherwise and so he is patently and egregiously wrong.

    Thus this feeble attempt to defend a “bad” Buddhist by an ideologically circuitous and shamelessly ignorant route fails. There are, and have been, “violent” Buddhists (I have a short list of titles on this subject available for anyone interested) who have failed to live up to the ideals and ethics that define, in the most fundamental terms, what it means to be a Buddhist. It does not do Buddhism justice to ignore or provide apologies for those who rhetorically advocate and/or practice discrimination, intolerance, and violence against Rohingya Muslims (I have blogged on this subject a couple of times over the years at Religious Left Law) or anyone else for that matter. As many of us learned as a child, two wrongs do not make a right.

    In a follow-up post, I am providing a list of relevant works on “Islamic ethics” and “democracy and Islam” that make plain the point that there is nothing intrinsically or inherently “intolerant,” let alone unethical or violent about “Islam.”

    • Patrick, thank you for this informed and scholarly reply, which I think is generally helpful, important and accurate. And for the bibliography to match. I didn’t have the time (or background, for that matter) to write anything remotely this detailed and I appreciate your doing so.

      In case the discussion continues, I would like to remind you of our rule against personal attacks, which does apply even when responding to positions one finds harmful or morally questionable. While one might be able to argue that this post attacks only the comment, I think that it does at least come very close to attacking the person, and I’m hoping we can move back from that line so as to avoid crossing it.

      • I suppose I cannot make sense of a personal attack when the person has chosen to be anonymous. Moreover, there are both fallacious and non-fallacious ad hominem arguments and I believe mine falls in the latter category, in other words, the important point is that I did not cross a line and so I find the warning and admonishment (in the form of a ‘reminder’) unnecessary if not condescending.

        • Patrick, I’ve sent you an email response to discuss further. Please let me know if you don’t get it (and definitely let me know if any of your posts didn’t go through, as I have approved all the ones I saw).

      • Please don’t label as “scholarly” a reference to Wikipedia. Wiki is not the Koran or the Hadith. Muhammad destroyed the “idols” on top of the Kabaa after he seized Mecca. That tells us a lot about his view of other religions. If he thought Islam was compatible with a multi-religious society, don’t you think the idols, at the very least, would have been put into a museum rather than destroyed?

        “But in the case of the vast majority of Muslims, this does not represent or define their worldviewiews/lifeworlds. Muslims can be, and in some cases are, Liberal democrats and faithful adherents of Islam.”
        That is assuming they are Muslims and not mere Muslims in name only. Most Catholics support abortion yet that clearly contradicts their religion. Likewise, most Hindus in this country are not opposed to premarital sex (referring to the ones brought up here not their immigrant parents) yet all the shastras generally frown upon that.

        P.S. regarding the comment below, rather than posting *secondary* sources, why not post quotes from the Koran and Hadith? If you need to rely that much on secondary sources, I can’t see you giving a convincing case.

        • It seems to me that secondary sources are more relevant in this case. If you are making the claim that Muslims are so much of a threat to Burmese Buddhists as to merit violence, surely that claim has to be based on what Muslims in Burma actually do, not on what’s in their sacred texts?

          As for a coherent argument that the Buddhists in Burma are the aggressors: do you have any evidence at all that Muslims in Burma – the victims of the violence Wirathu is urging – have committed acts worthy of any violent response? Let alone the violent response that is actually happening, which includes mass rape, torture and ethnic cleansing? Because it sure sounds like you’re defending the latter, on the grounds of things you think Muslims have done elsewhere.

        • The Wikipedia entry cites appropriate scholarly material. Removing the idols was a change from polytheism to monotheism, much as like happened within Judaism. The hostility to Muhammad and the early Muslims was more often than not based on pre-Islamic tribal norms and ethics, including the political power of various tribes and needs to be viewed in that light. Muhammad’s view of other religions in the region was largely tolerant, hence the early compacts with tribes and those not avowedly Muslims. There is abundant literature on all of this that you clearly have not read. The sources I shared are chock full of the appropriate arguments and citations or references, which is why I shared them: there is more in my massive bibliography on Islamic studies available online. I do not have the time nor the temperament to fill in the gaps in your knowledge. As to nominal or genuine Muslims I am not an authority … I can only comment when Muslims do things contrary to what textual material and many authorities within their traditions say otherwise (there are of course disagreements on this score within all religions). I have a short essay on Islam and democracy on my Academia page you might read which explains why there is no inherent contradiction between being a Muslim and a Liberal democrat (the ‘L’ is in reference to the political philosophy of liberalism). As I said, there are people in all religions that are outliers or who do no live up to many of their religion’s ideals, values, beliefs, and so forth. In that respect, Islam is no different than any of the other religions. I have studied these religions for more than forty years and have taught seven of the so-called major religions at the college level, so you will have to take my word for it. I have also published in Islamic Studies (not all of which is on my Academia page), so I am well aware of what counts as scholarly and what does not (or is at least borderline).

  4. On Islamic ethics:
    • Ali, Kecia. Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith and Jurisprudence. London: Oneworld, 2006.
    • Azadpur, Mohammad. Reason Unbound: On Spiritual Practice in Islamic Peripatetic Philosophy (State University of New York Press, 2011).
    • Brockopp, Jonathan E., ed. Islamic Ethics of Life: Abortion, War, and Euthanasia. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2003.
    • Brockopp, Jonathan E. and Thomas Eich, eds. Muslim Medical Ethics: From Theory to Practice. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2008.
    • Cook, Michael. Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
    • Diagen, Souleymane Bachir. Open to Reason: Muslim Philosophers in Conversation with the Western Tradition (Columbia University Press, 2018).
    • Fakhry, Majid. Ethical Theories in Islam. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1991.
    • Goodman, Lenn E. Islamic Humanism. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003.
    • Hashemi, Nader. Islam, Secularism, and Liberal Democracy: Toward a Democratic Theory for Muslim Societies (Oxford University Press, 2009).
    • Hourani, George F. Islamic Rationalism: The Ethics of ‛Abd al-Jabbār. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1971.
    • Hourani, George F. Reason and Tradition in Islamic Ethics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
    • Kelsay, John. Islam and War: The Gulf War and Beyond—A Study in Comparative Ethics. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993.
    • Kelsay, John and James Turner Johnson, eds. Just War and Jihad: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on War and Peace in Western and Islamic Traditions. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publ. Group, 1991.
    • Khadduri, Majid. The Islamic Conception of Justice. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984.
    • Leaman, Oliver. An Introduction to Classical Islamic Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 2nd ed., 2002).
    • Leaman, Oliver. The Qur’an: A Philosophical Guide (Bloomsbury Academic, 2016).
    • Leaman, Oliver. Islam and Morality: A Philosophical Introduction (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019).
    • March, Andrew F. Islam and Liberal Citizenship: The Search for an Overlapping Consensus. (Oxford University Press, 2009).
    • Nusseibeh, Sari. The Story of Reason in Islam (Stanford University Press, 2017).
    • Ramadan, Tariq. Radical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
    • Ramadan, Tariq. Islamic Ethics: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
    • Sachedina, Abdulaziz. Islamic Biomedical Ethics: Principles and Application. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
    • Sajoo, Amyn B. Muslim Ethics: Emerging Vistas. London: I.B. Tauris, 2004.
    • Sajoo, Amyn B., ed. A Companion to Muslim Ethics. London: I.B. Tauris, in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2010.

    On Muslims and democracy:
    • Abou El Fadl, Khaled, Joshua Cohen, and Deborah Chasmen, eds., Islam and the Challenge of Democracy: A Boston Review Book (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004).
    • Bayat, Asef. Making Islam Democratic: Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007).
    • Bayat, Asef. Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010).
    • Dahl, Robert A. Ian Shapiro and José Antonio Chiebub, eds., The Democracy Sourcebook (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003).
    • Enayat, Hamid. Modern Islamic Political Thought (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1982).
    • Esposito, John L. and John O. Voll, eds., Islam and Democracy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).
    • Feldman, Noah. After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003).
    • Gaus, Gerald F. Contemporary Theories of Liberalism: Public Reason as a Post-Enlightenment Project (London: Sage, 2003).
    • Goodin, Robert E. Reflective Democracy (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003).
    • Goodin, Robert E. Innovating Democracy: Democratic Theory and Practice After the Deliberative Turn (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).
    • Hashemi, Nader. Islam, Secularism, and Liberal Democracy: Toward a Democratic Theory for Muslim Societies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
    • Holmes, Stephen. Passions and Constraint: On the Theory of Liberal Democracy (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1995).
    • Kurzman, Charles ed. Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1998).
    • Lynch, Marc ed., The Arab Uprisings Explained: New Contentious Politics in the Middle East (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).
    • Mallat, Chibli. Philosophy of Nonviolence: Revolution, Constitutionalism, and Justice beyond the Middle East (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).
    • March, Andrew F. Islam and Liberal Citizenship: The Search for an Overlapping Consensus (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
    • Piscatori, James. “Islam, Islamists, and the Electoral Principle in the Middle East” (Leiden, The Netherlands: International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM).
    • Rawls, John. Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993).
    • Wickham, Carrie Rosefsky. The Muslim Brotherhood: Evolution of an Islamist Movement (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013).

    • “One can find unprincipled, violent, extremist and fanatical militants in more than a few religions around the globe, and on occasion, these become part of a nation-state’s regnant ideology, rendering them all that more dangerous (ethno- and religious nationalism being anti-Liberal and anti-democratic).”
      I can’t find any Jains strapping bombs to their chests and walking onto school buses, nor do I find many Daoists who practice FGM, nor can I find any confirmed members of the Church of Satan who desecrate other places of worship. The stories of Saiva kings burning Jain monks alive are based on dubious sources as even Wendy Doniger admits.

      Nobody (surprisingly actually but given the name of the blog maybe not that surprising?) mentioned the passages in the Old Testament about divine command to kill the Amalekites, Before giving a much fuller response there (and putting aside the obviously legendary nature of the account as opposed to the no doubt historical account of Muhammad’s raid on the Kabaa), let me point out that nobody in the Conquest Narrative in the OT was forced to convert to Judaism. The goal of the Conquest was to take land, not force all the inhabitants to adopt their religion. This is something mainstream Bible scholars will confirm.

    • Why did you cite Rawls and Gaus (my mentor was one of his top Ph.D. students FYI) when neither of them are Muslim or Islamic scholars? Also, I still don’t see a coherent argument that the Buddhists in Burma were the aggressors. As anyone even remotely familiar with the history of Islam, specifically the history of Islam in South Asian knows, things don’t exactly go well for Buddhists (remember those murtis in Afghanistan that the Taliban blew up before taking down our towers in America?). Why were the birthplaces of Ram and Krishna converted into mosques if, as you claim, there is more “nuance” to the concept of Jihad? I’m sure more than a few Islamic scholars were behind the idea of turning Hindu mandirs into Masjids…..

      • To speak of the birthplaces of Ram and Krishna is simply nonsense: it was Hindutva or Hindu fanatics that attempted to change/revise/deny the history in this case. Again, I have neither the time nor temperament to detail the history of Muslims in India and the conflicts between Hindus and Muslims on the subcontinent but neither party is blameless and in the contemporary world it is often Hindus who foment the violence. Again, there is an abundant literature on this topic. As for Buddhism and violence:

        Inspired by a post by Kenan Malik, “Buddhist Pogroms and Religious Conflicts,” I’ve assembled a small list of titles (below) that treat the topic of Buddhists resorting to violence in the context of social and political conflicts, especially Buddhists whose individual and collective identity has become entangled if not fused with nationalism. Malik begins his piece with the dire situation of the Myanmar’s (Burma’s) Rohingya:

        “The Rohingya are Muslims who live mostly in Rakhine, in the north west of the country, bordering Bangladesh. Early Muslim settlements date back to the 7th century. Today, in a nation that is 90 per cent Buddhist, there are some 8 million Muslims of which probably a quarter are Rohingya. Many feel they are fighting for their very existence.

        The military junta that came to power in Myanmar in 1962 (or Burma as it was then) has, over the past half century, sought to build popular support for its rule by fomenting hatred against minority groups. The Rohingya have been stripped of citizenship and officially declared foreigners in their native land. Restrictions have been placed on the Rohingya owning land, travelling outside their villages, receiving an education and having children.

        The recent successes of the democracy movement has paradoxically only worsened the problems of the Rohingya. The junta, still clinging to power, has sharpened its anti-Rohingya rhetoric in an attempt to bolster its position. The democracy movement has refused to support the Rohingya for fear of alienating its largely Buddhist constituency. The leader of the democracy movement, the Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has been shamefully silent. When asked to condemn violence against the Rohingya, the furthest she has been willing to go is to condemn violence in general. Many members of her National League for Democracy are openly involved in extremist anti-Rohingya organizations.

        The result has been over the past year an unprecedented series of pogroms against the Rohingya. Villages, schools, workplaces and mosques have been attacked and torched by Buddhist mobs, often aided by the security forces. Hundreds of Rohingya have been killed and some 140,000 left homeless.

        The anti-Muslim campaign has been led by monks who justify their actions as in keeping with the demands of Buddhism. The principal anti-Rohingya organization, the 969 movement, takes its name from the traditional nine qualities of Buddha, six qualities of his teachings and nine qualities of the monks. Its leader, a monk named Wirathu, has reportedly called himself the ‘Burmese bin Laden.’ Muslims, he insists, ‘breed quickly and they are very violent and they eat their own kind.’ Because ‘the Burmese people and the Buddhists are devoured every day, the national religion needs to be protected.’ Another prominent 969 monk, Wimala Biwuntha, insists that without the anti-Royhinga campaign ‘we’ll lose our religion and our race.’ Myanmar’s minister of religious affairs, Sann Sint, has backed the anti-Rohingya campaign.”

        Malik also introduces us to the historic mobilization of Buddhist chauvinism against the Tamils in Sri Lanka, with the end of the war against the Tamils finding that chauvinism now directed at Muslims! One of Malik’s conclusions is especially important, having implications beyond Buddhism. He argues that despite the prominent role of religious identity as an important variable in these violent conflicts,

        “it would be as wrong to see many, perhaps most, of these conflicts as purely religious confrontations as it would be to see the anti-Rohingya pogroms as a religious war. Many have, like the confrontations in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, complex social and political roots, as groups vying for political power have exploited religion and religious identities to gain support. The importance of religion in these conflicts is often less in creating the tensions than in helping establish the chauvinist identities through which certain groups are demonized and one’s own actions justified.”

        Indeed, in Myanmar, the two principal forms of nationalist ideologies responsible for rationalizing and sanctioning this ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide are Buddhist and militarist. It appears that members of both groups have acted as co-principals of one kind or another (e.g., full joint wrongdoing, conspiracy, co-operation, or collusion) in acts of coercion and violence that amount to ethnic cleansing or genocide.

        It is no doubt true that many “New Age,” “liberal,” and even so-called secular Buddhists have romanticized and idealized Buddhism generally, succumbing to Orientalist or Orientalist-like illusions (most vividly perhaps, in the case of Tibetan Buddhism) or fantasies that prevent them from coming to grips with the darker realities of “Buddhism on the ground” in countries like Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. In the West, Buddhists were long thought immune from “sexual abuse, corruption and cultic behaviour,” but recent scandals and public accusations and confessions from Buddhists have proven otherwise.

        As with all religious traditions and worldviews, there is invariably a (scalar) gap, sometimes an abyss (e.g., the case with many if not most evangelical Christians in this country, who often appear not to have even read Jesus’s sayings and parables in the Gospels), between teachings, doctrines, spiritual and moral or ethical obligations and guidance one finds in the traditions and worldviews and the daily lives and actions of religious adherents. Some would point to this gap to argue for the irrelevance or impossibility of living according to the doctrinal teachings and spiritual or moral imperatives of these religious worldviews but I think, without attempting to rebut the argument here, that that is nonsense, as are similar or analogous attempts to dismiss utopian imagination and thinking in social and political thought simply because history teaches us many have mistaken utopian dreams and ideals for programmatic blueprints or imminent and concrete possibilities to be realized by any possible means. Along with Condorcet and as defined by the anarchist philosopher William Godwin, man is, I believe, “perfectible” (which does not mean human nature can attain perfection only that we are capable, in principle, of perpetual improvement), and religious worldviews (and not only religious worldviews) often contain core doctrinal teachings (e.g., about love, compassion, justice, various virtues generally … ) and corresponding forms of spiritual praxis (e.g., moral psychological and spiritual ‘exercises’ or therapeutic methods, like self-examination, ‘attentiveness,’ meditation, and so forth; what Martha Nussbaum memorably christened “therapies of desire” in the case of Hellenistic ethics, whereby we can make, individually and collectively, perpetual improvements in the moral and spiritual powers and capacities that exemplify the best of human nature, although these are neither inevitable nor guaranteed once attained, in other words, regression is always possible).

        Perhaps we can find some consolation in the fact that Buddhist groups and organizations like the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and the International Network of Engaged Buddhists have taken on the task of educating themselves and others about Buddhists and violence in the contemporary world. And the Dalai Lama has, for some years now, encouraged Buddhists to speak out about possible immoral behavior among Buddhist teachers, having

        “attributed ethical misconduct in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries to the influence of Tibet’s traditional feudal system. He advised Buddhists not to indiscriminately accept whatever their teacher says. ‘That is totally wrong.’ His Holiness advised students to investigate teachings, and, if they find the teachings to be harmful, ‘You shouldn’t follow the lama’s teachings. Even Dalai Lama’s teachings [sic]. If you find some contradiction, you should not follow my teachings.’ When misconduct occurs, the Dalai Lama advised, Buddhists should make the misconduct known: ‘These people do not follow Buddhist advice, Buddhist teachings. Only thing you can do is make public — through newspaper, through radio. Make public.’ His Holiness said that where abusive teachers may not pay heed to Buddhist teachings on ethical behavior, they will likely take notice if their face appears in the media.”

        Violent Buddhists: A Select Bibliography
        • Bari, Muhammad Abdul. The Rohingya Crisis: A People Facing Extinction. Markfield,
        Leicestershire, UK: Kube Publishing, 2018.
        • Bartholomeusz, Tessa J. In Defense of Dharma: Just-War Ideology in Buddhist Sri Lanka. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002.
        • Boyle, Francis A. The Tamil Genocide by Sri Lanka: The Global Failure to Protect Tamil Rights under International Law. Atlanta, GA: Clarity Press, 2nd ed., 2016.
        • Chaudhury, Sabyasachi Basu Ray and Ranabir Samaddar, eds. The Rohingya in South Asia: People without a State. London: Routledge, 2018.
        • Dalton, Jacob. The Taming of the Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.
        • Fortify Rights by the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School. “Persecution of the Rohingya Muslims: Is Genocide Occurring in Myanmar’s Rakhine State? A Legal Analysis,” October 2015.
        • Ibrahim, Azeem. The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Genocide. London: C. Hurst & Co., revised ed., 2018.
        • Ives, Christopher. Imperial-Way Zen: Ichikawa Hakugen’s Critique and Lingering Questions for Buddhist Ethics. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 2009.
        • Jerryson, Michael K. Buddhist Fury: Religion and Violence in Southern Thailand. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
        • Jerryson, Michael K. and Mark Juergensmeyer, eds. Buddhist Warfare. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
        • King, Winston L. Zen and the Way of the Sword: Arming the Samurai Psyche. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
        • Tambiah, Stanley J. Buddhism Betrayed? Religion, Politics, and Violence in Sri Lanka. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
        • Tikhonov, Vladimir and Torkel Brekke, eds. Buddhism and Violence: Militarism and Buddhism in Modern Asia. New York: Routledge, 2013.
        • Victoria, Brian Daizen. Zen War Stories. London: Routledge Curzon, 2001.
        • Victoria, Brian Daizen. Zen at War. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2nd ed., 2006.
        • Wade, Francis. Myanmar’s Enemy Within: Buddhist Violence and the Making of a Muslim ‘Other.’ London: Zed Books, 2017.
        • Yu, Xue. Buddhism, War, and Nationalism: Chinese Monks in the Struggle against Japanese Aggressions, 1931-1945. New York: Routledge, 2005.

      • There are arguments about Liberalism in the works of Rawls and Gaus that I have often used (in the classroom and in print) to explain why there is nothing in “Islam” that need be contrary to accepting (in the main) fundamental Liberal principles and practices.

        As for Buddhists being the aggressors (to the point of ethnic cleansing and genocide) in Myanmar, there is ample documentation in published books and among human rights organizations and in the international law literature. One can find this material with a little bit of assiduous research.

  5. I should have given proper credit to the above model of Quranic exegesis: It is based on—albeit with alterations—Abdullah Saeed’s Interpreting the Qur’ān: Towards a Contemporary Approach (New York: Routledge, 2006): 150-154. The additional material I’ve added is largely by way of clarification or explanation, although I believe it is in the spirit of, if not faithful to, Saeed’s proposed model in his book.

  6. Will give a fuller reply after the holiday:

    “It is no doubt true that many “New Age,” “liberal,” and even so-called secular Buddhists have romanticized and idealized Buddhism generally, succumbing to Orientalist or Orientalist-like illusions (most vividly perhaps, in the case of Tibetan Buddhism) or fantasies that prevent them from coming to grips with the darker realities of “Buddhism on the ground” in countries like Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. In the West, Buddhists were long thought immune from “sexual abuse, corruption and cultic behaviour,” but recent scandals and public accusations and confessions from Buddhists have proven otherwise.”

    The romanization you seem to be speaking of is about the guru scandals in the West rather than the main concern of Muslim-Buddhist conflict. We don’t hear much about sex scandals in Theravada communities, either in Asia or in the West, most likely because the concept of a guru in Theravada Buddhism is practically non-existent whereas Vajrayana Buddhism holds it to be an essential belief. Also, it’s worth pointing out that Tibetan Buddhists were persecuted by the Muslims (East Turks) for centuries up to the mid 20th century when Maoism came to power. We see people who call themselves “intersectional” activists ignore intersectionality when it came time to protest the treatment of East Turk Muslims by the Chinese: we say blue and white flags but no mention of Tibeta, as if Tibetans had not been persecuted for nearly a century (by the Chinese government, in addition to being persecuted by the East Turk Muslims prior to the 1950s). I cannot say I was surprised to see this ignorance, since the Free Palestine movement seems unaware of the persecution Kuwaiti Yazidis face. When Michael Brown was killed in 2014, the BLM chapter in Athens, Ohio was almost immediately hijacked (pun intended) by the Free Palestine movement who made it about them rather than black men in America. Likewise with the Dakota Access Pipeline, Palestinian activists tried to make the whole campaign about *them* rather than Native Americans. You can find images all over the internet showing activists with pro-Palestine signs at the protests at the DAPL site. There is an Imam in my hometown who capitalized on the protests about Mt.Rushmore in an effort to convert Native Americans to Islam. That is opportunism one will find in no other religion today. It’s also worth pointing out that westerners can also have a romanticized view of Islam: feminists who see wearing a hijab as empowering or who are unaware of sexual abuse in madrasas. Linda Sourser comes to mind here.

    • *Sarsour (there really needs to be an “edit” function here). Also, nobody denies that there was a Ram mandir that was torn down for the Babri Masjid. To say that it is merely “Hindu Nationalists” who claim that is disingenuous.

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