Can Buddhists learn from Muslims?

Buddhists and Muslims have more in common than we think. The Buddhist tradition can learn from the religious practices of the Islamic tradition. There is the potential for an important dialogue between Buddhists and Muslims, who share similar priorities in the spiritual life.

Muslims uphold five religious duties in their daily life. The Islamic tradition refers to these duties as the Five Pillars. In the Koran, Muhammad received the basic instructions for each of these duties.

The two faiths share certain similar priorities in daily life.

Here is a basic summary of the Five Pillars for the Muslim tradition.

  1. Shahada. This Arabic word means Witness. The words of the Shahada refer to the statement in the Koran (48.29) for Muslims to be very mindful of: “There is no deity but Allah (the Arabic word for God or Jehovah) and Muhammad is his messenger.” The Buddha encouraged Dharma practitioners to be a Sakshi (a Witness – to All that unfolds) as a step towards deep realization.
  2. Salat. The word means Prayer. Formal prayer takes place before sunrise, noon, afternoon, sunset and evening. Salat includes individual expressions of prayer and a group of people. The time of prayer in the mosque occurs at 12 noon on a Friday. Prayer will often begin with the opening Sura (a chapter) in the Koran. The Sura states: In the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate, praise be to God, the Lord of the Worlds, the Merciful, the Compassionate. You we worship and you we entreat. Lead us in the straight way. You will find often in a Sutra (a discourse) of the Buddha regular reference to the divine importance of Compassion. Buddhists will regularly chant key statements of the Buddha.
  3. Zakat. Zakat refers to an obligation to support others. Muslims offer money to support others in need. Zakat also encourages wealthy Muslims to give generously to show their non- attachment to money and goods.
  4. Ramadan denotes to ‘burn away sins.’ Muslims give up eating, drinking, smoking and sexual intercourse for 30 days from before sunrise until after sunset.
  5. Haj. Haj means Pilgrimage.  Every adult Muslim is encouraged to make a pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime. Muhammad made a single pilgrimage to Mecca. Pilgrimages are also made to sacred locations in the Muslim tradition.

Practitioners in the Buddhist tradition might reflect on the common aspects of the two religious traditions. There are pillars of support as well in the Buddhist tradition.

  1. Saddha. This Pali word means Trust, Confidence, Faith. This trust expresses itself in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Buddhists could benefit from recognising much more the transcendent element of the Dharma in terms of its expression of the Deathless, of Liberation. Muslims use the word Allah for the transcendent element. The Buddha is surely the finest messenger of the Dharma. Buddhists need to be mindful (Sati) of the Transcendent Dharma that the Buddha pointed to.
  2. Sala. This Pali word means a Place or Home. It is often prefixed – such as Dharmasala. It is the place of meditation, of spiritual practice. Buddhist monks and nuns walk to the sala in the monastery, alone or with others, to meditate. Buddhist practitioners could consider their sala where they apply sati/samadhi mindfulness/meditation practice in any of the four postures of sitting, walking, standing and reclining. Like Muslims, many Tibetan Buddhists often engage in daily prostrations.
  3. Dana is the practice of giving, of generosity, of making offerings for the welfare of others. Dana supports the Dharma, the Sangha of the Wise and ordained and lay practitioners. Some devout Muslims will tithe a percentage of their income to support others and worthwhile projects. . Buddhists could also consider such an approach. The Buddha referred to the importance of Dharmadana, of giving generously in the name of the Dharma.
  4. Nekkhama. The word means to renounce, to let go, to give up. It refers to the joy of letting go of worldly experiences to know spiritual experiences. Nekkhama contributes to the burning away of old karma. Buddhists could dedicate a month in the year to renunciation with a view to applying and sustaining its importance and benefits throughout the year.
  5. Yatra is the word for Pilgrimage. The Buddha encouraged making a Yatra to the place of his birth, enlightenment (Bodh Gaya), first teaching (Sarnath) and death. The path or journey of the Yatra matters as much as any destination. The Haj reminds Buddhists to go regularly on a Yatra to develop their spiritual practice. Buddhists, monks, nuns and householders, also regularly go on a Yatra to sacred places. The Yatra or Haj reminds practitioners of the importance of the path and the goal.

May all beings live in peace

May all beings live in harmony

May all beings live in peace and harmony.


1 thought on “Can Buddhists learn from Muslims?”

  1. Thank you Christopher, I had a teacher and friend in my life when I was a teenager who was an illegal immigrant who had been offered shelter and support at a mosque – in Australia. He had a job there as a a caretaker and he was an educated man – with a very broad and open understanding of religions and spirituality. He came from a now-extinct little state – on the edge of India where they had tigers and forests. He new how to read and sing/chant the Koran in Arabic and we had some great times together. And I really love Rumi! xxoo

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