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Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road

By Johan Elverskog

Publication Year: 2010

In the contemporary world the meeting of Buddhism and Islam is most often imagined as one of violent confrontation. Indeed, the Taliban's destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001 seemed not only to reenact the infamous Muslim destruction of Nalanda monastery in the thirteenth century but also to reaffirm the stereotypes of Buddhism as a peaceful, rational philosophy and Islam as an inherently violent and irrational religion. But if Buddhist-Muslim history was simply repeated instances of Muslim militants attacking representations of the Buddha, how had the Bamiyan Buddha statues survived thirteen hundred years of Muslim rule?

Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road demonstrates that the history of Buddhist-Muslim interaction is much richer and more complex than many assume. This groundbreaking book covers Inner Asia from the eighth century through the Mongol empire and to the end of the Qing dynasty in the late nineteenth century. By exploring the meetings between Buddhists and Muslims along the Silk Road from Iran to China over more than a millennium, Johan Elverskog reveals that this long encounter was actually one of profound cross-cultural exchange in which two religious traditions were not only enriched but transformed in many ways.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Encounters with Asia


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. 1-8

The Buddhist monastery of Nalanda was founded in northeast India in the early fifth century. Over time it became the premier institution of higher learning in Asia and, much like leading universities today, Nalanda had a world-renowned faculty working on the cutting edge of the theoretical sciences and a student body drawn from across the Buddhist world.1 ...

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Chapter 1. Contact

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pp. 9-55

A Buddhist studies joke has it that the Dharma in the West should not be called the Middle Way, but the Upper Middle Way.1 Indeed, the seeming preponderance of wealthy Euro-American Buddhists, who are able to escape the daily grind by jetting off for a meditation retreat on Maui, has become a stock figure of ridicule in American...

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Chapter 2. Understanding

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pp. 56-116

At the end of the eighth century a messenger from northwest India arrived in Baghdad and requested an audience with Caliph Harun al-Rashid. Since he believed that it would be valuable to display his magnanimity and magnificence to this poor vassal from the frontiers of the Islamic Empire the Caliph agreed. ...

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Chapter 3. Idolatry

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pp. 117-174

In the beginning of the tenth century a man from Nishapur was arrested and jailed for denouncing Islam. One of the day’s leading scholars, however, was intrigued by his materialist critique of Allah’s attributes and he thus asked the Amir if he could take custody of this heretic in order to engage him in debate. ...

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Chapter 4. Jihad

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pp. 175-226

Much like his Mongol ancestors the Sultan Sa‘id Khan had a drinking problem,1 but even so he was a firm believer in jihad. He ‘‘was always on the look-out to participate himself in holy war, and his thirst and hunger were never assuaged by sending out military expeditions every year to acquire heavenly reward.’’2 ...

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Chapter 5. Halal

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pp. 227-260

In the early weeks of the year 1280 a group of Muslim merchants set out across the frozen steppe toward the Mongol capital of Daidu. Their goal was Khubilai Khan’s court and their aim was to present him with several birds of prey, which they hoped he would use while hunting. But the journey was hard, and the only thing that kept them going was the...

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pp. 261-264

Although Injannashi believed he had solved the problem of prejudice and difference it is clear that both of these issues are still with us, as is the idea that Buddhism and Islam are inherently different. Indeed, even though Injannashi’s metaphor of a common humanity has now been updated within new theoretical frameworks—such...


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pp. 265-328


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pp. 329-337

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pp. 339-340

During the writing of this book I attended the seminar of a noted Polish sociologist who, during his lecture, chided American scholars for thanking their families in their acknowledgments. For him this was slightly ridiculous. Instead he advocated that one should thank those scholars found in the bibliography. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812205312
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812242379

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Encounters with Asia
Series Editor Byline: Victor H. Mair, Series Editor See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 794700582
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Islam -- Silk Road -- History.
  • Buddhism -- Silk Road -- History.
  • Islam -- Relations -- Buddhism.
  • Buddhism -- Relations -- Islam.
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