Dalai Lama Defends Islam at San Francisco Summit to Counter Religious Intolerance

Article excerpt

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, defended Islam and the often-maligned religion's traditions in a San Francisco interfaith conference April 15. Sponsored by the Zaytuna Institute and the Islamic Society of California, among other groups, the "Gathering of Hearts Illuminating Compassion," an invitation-only conference held at the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel, drew 500 guests and featured some 20 speakers of various faiths. Among these were the Rev. Alan Jones of Grace Cathedral, Maryam Al-Khalifa Sharief, Waleed El-Ansary and Gray Henry, editor of Islam in Tibet and a member of the organizing committee.

"Nowadays to some people the Muslim tradition appears more militant," the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism told attendees. "I think that is totally wrong. Muslims, like any other traditions, have the same message, same practice-a practice of compassion." Wearing his recognizable maroon and saffron robe and sitting lotus-style in a center stage baronial chair, the 70-year-old monk noted the need for an understanding of all religions. "In terms of community, in terms of humanity, the concept of several truths, several religions is very relevant," he stated.

The conference was organized after Imam Mehdi Khorasani of the Islamic Society of California invited the spiritual leader to speak in San Francisco to counter religious intolerance.

Hamza Yusuf, co-founder of the Zaytuna Institute, a Hayward-based center for Islamic study, thanked the Dalai Lama for reaching out to Muslims. "This is something so essential to an increasingly globalized environment," he emphasized. "The Dalai Lama said that the essence of pain and suffering is ignorance. This is a completely Islamic understanding. In order for us to root out hatred, we have to root out ignorance. We have much to learn from the Buddhists. As a Muslim, I have learned from this man and I want to learn more."

Now based in the Himalayan town of Dharamsala, India after fleeing his native Tibet in 1959 following a failed uprising against Chinese occupation, the Dalai Lama promised to attend any interfaith dialogue conference to which he is invited. The 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner also urged the audience to become involved in interfaith dialogue. "We need action," he said.

His Holiness concluded the program by leading the audience in a moment of meditation.

Dr. Riyad Mansour Addresses ADC-SF

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan to unilaterally define the borders of Israel by retaining control of strategic parts of the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and three major illegal settlement blocs is illegal and would be the end of the two-state solution, Dr. Riyad Mansour told some 300 people attending the annual banquet of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC-SF). "This is in clear violation of relevant provisions of international law as reaffirmed in security Council Resolutions and violates the rights of the Palestinian people," he stated. "It is an attempt to confer legitimacy on illegal Israeli settlements and to negate the rights of the Palestinian refugees."

Dr. Mansour, the permanent observer for Palestine to the United Nations, was the keynote speaker at the April 22 event, held at the Clarion Hotel near San Francisco International Airport. Also featured were comedian Aaron Kader and musicians Raed Maleh and Ziad Elchatle.

The ambassador called on Israel to release some $54 million in monthly tax and customs receipts, which legally belong to the Palestinian Authority but which Israel has been withholding since Hamas won a majority of Palestinian Legislative Council seats in Jan. 25 elections. "The choice of the people deserves respect and support," he reminded his audience. "Therefore, the Palestinian people must not be punished by anyone for exercising their democratic right to elect their representatives."

Decrying the ongoing and escalating Israeli military attacks on densely populated Palestinian civilian areas, Mansour noted that between April 7 and 12 Israeli forces killed 22 Palestinians, bringing the number of Palestinians killed since September 2000 to more than 3,800. …