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Tibet-India-Ladakh-Muslim-2014Dharamshala: - Describing him as a symbol of peace and harmony for the whole world, the Muslim Coordination Committee in Leh, Ladakh prayed for His Holiness's long life and the fulfillment of his wishes.

The morning of July 16, 2014, on the edge of Leh town, the Muslim Coordination Committee had invited His Holiness to lunch. In welcoming remarks Saeed Naqvi praised His Holiness for his efforts to promote mutual understanding and for being a symbol of peace and harmony for the whole world. Saif ud din paralleled these remarks, saying:

"Today is a great day for us as we are honored by His Holiness's presence. We admire your work for peace and assure you that Islam denounces violence and bloodshed. Like many in the international community we support your Middle Way Approach to resolving the difficulties in Tibet. We Muslims and Buddhists of Ladakh have long lived in harmony and will continue to do so. We pray for His Holiness's long life and the fulfillment of his wishes."

"My Muslim spiritual brothers and sisters," His Holiness replied, "you organized this meeting and invited me to it, which I greatly appreciate. In the small village where I was born near Kumbum Monastery there were Muslim families so I have long been familiar with people of Islam. When I reached Lhasa at the age of five, about 1,000 Muslims lived there and whenever there were government functions Muslim representatives took part. Many of them wore a red hat with a tassel on it."

At mention of this the one man in the audience wearing such a hat got to his feet and His Holiness teased him saying: "Yes, just like that, with a tassel that matches you beard.

"You may have heard me tell this story before, but the 13th Dalai Lama had had a pocket watch that I began to use. Then one day it stopped and we invited an expert Muslim watchmaker to come and have a look at it. He fixed it, but solemnly told me that a person who carries a watch in his pocket should behave as if he was carrying an egg! A gentle rebuke that I should be more careful."

His Holiness mentioned that after 1959 many Tibetan Muslims left Tibet and settled in Srinagar. For many years, he said he had been unable to visit them, but renewed his acquaintance two years ago. He spoke of being surprised and touched to discover that their young children spoke good Tibetan with a Lhasa dialect, an indication that they still use Tibetan within their families.

In addition to describing his practice since 1975 of making pilgrimage to other people's places of worship, which has seen him visit several mosques, making many Muslim friends, he referred to events since September 11th 2001. He recalled attending the first anniversary memorial service in Washington and expressing his conviction that just because the terrorists involved had a Muslim background was no reason for generalizing about a whole community. He pointed out that there are mischievous individuals amongst Hindus, Jews, Christians and Buddhists, not only among Muslims, and that to generalize about any of these communities on such a basis would be wrong and unfair. He said:

"I'm a Buddhist, but now I often step forward to defend Islam. I often repeat what my friend Farooq Abdhullah the former Chief Minister, explained to me about jihad, that it is not about attacking other people, but about making combat with your own disturbing emotions. If you are about to do someone harm, but you restrain yourself, that's an instance of jihad, which also has a lot to do with self-discipline."

His Holiness went on to praise India as a living example of tolerant pluralism, a place where all the world's major religions live together peacefully side by side. He cited the small Parsee community in Mumbai who have long flourished there without fear. He reiterated that India's example is a model for the world to follow.

Commenting on the sadness he has felt to hear reports of Buddhists in Burma and Sri Lanka attacking Muslims, he recounted the appeal he had made to them when moved to attack to remember the face of the Buddha. His Holiness is convinced that if the Buddha were present there he would offer the victims protection. In a similar context, considering the conflicts between Sunnis and Shias in various parts of the Middle East and between Christians and Muslims in parts of Africa, he appealed to his listeners to consider ways in which they might influence their Muslim brothers to exercise restraint. He acknowledged that Ladakhi Muslims by themselves might not achieve much, but as part of a larger Indian Muslim community their voice would be heard.

Finally, His Holiness noted that although they had invited him to lunch, on this occasion his hosts would not be joining him because they are observing the Ramadan daytime fast. His teasing them that he would eat twice as much on their behalf raised a friendly laugh.

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