You are here:   Text > Monks, Magi and Mosques: Religion on the Silk Road
 
Our concentration on the Church of the East should not mean that we forget Christians of many other kinds — Armenians, Georgians, Jacobites, etc — who were also to be found on the Silk routes. Indeed, just as the fortunes of the Nestorians began to wane, Western religious orders, such as the Dominicans and Franciscans, began to arrive in the area. They too experienced a mixed reception, sometimes being welcomed by rulers and allowed to build churches and, at other times, persecuted viciously for their faith. These missionaries anticipated the famous Jesuit missionary, St Francis Xavier, to Japan and India and the controversy of the Jesuit accommodation to culture in China and India which eventually led to the suppression of the order by Rome. The Jesuits were also one of the main actors in the dialogue among the religions initiated by the Emperor Akbar.Their work continued under Jehangir, with churches built in Lahore and Agra, and Catholic activity continued right up to the beginning of the modern missionary era in the 19th century with many fascinating aspects to it, such as the jurisdiction of an Eastern Catholic bishop and the significant numbers of Christians in the Mughal and Afghan armies.

Although there was tension between Buddhists and Christians, especially in China, Buddhist encounters with Islam have often been seen as more violent. This is summed up in the destruction caused to temples and shrines by Muslim armies from the time of Mahmud of Ghazna (AD 971-1030). Their raids into north-west India were to plunder the wealth of the country but the obvious targets were wealthy temples and shrines. The destruction of the international Buddhist university at Nalanda in 1202 is often regarded as spelling the end of Buddhism in the place of its birth.

As the Chachnama, an account of the Muslim conquest of Sind by Muhammad Bin Qasim in the eighth century, shows, however, earlier conquests were not as destructive and Qasim went so far as to declare Buddhists and Hindus dhimmis, or protected peoples, even though this title had previously been confined to the Ahl Al-Kitab, that is Jews and Christians and, by extension, Zoroastrians. He also issued orders that peasants and artisans were not to be harmed and that, while conversion to Islam was to be encouraged, Hindu and Buddhist worshippers were not to be disturbed.

In his highly revisionist work Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road, Johan Elverskog has shown that even in situations of tension and violence, tolerance can still be found and dialogue can continue. He mentions the Buddha figures of Bamiyan as having survived through the Ghaznavid period right up to modern times when they were destroyed by the Taliban. How was this possible if rulers like Mahmud were intent only on destruction? To these we can add the Buddhist and Christian remains at locations such as Taxila, which even if defaced, have survived enough to tell the tale. Elverskog recounts instances of dialogue and understanding between Muslims and Buddhists because of trade. There was even Muslim appreciation of the art in figurines of the Buddha and Buddhist terminology was used in poetry. The widespread popularity of the tales of Kalila wa Dimna is another example of literary and artistic exchange. As far as intellectual exchange is concerned, he points simply to the huge Indian influence on the Islamic and Western worlds of Indian mathematics and logic. Under the Barmakide Viziers (who had Buddhist origins), there was a real possibility that intellectual engagement would occur in the Muslim world with the Sanskritic tradition rather than the Hellenistic, which the largely Christian translators made possible. While none of this was exclusively Buddhist, Buddhists cannot be excluded from these exchanges.

View Full Article
Tags:
 
Share/Save
 
 
 
 

Post your comment

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.