Saturday, 17 March 2012

Islam and Buddhism by Harun Yahya: a response

The book, Islam and Buddhism, by Harun Yahya is a critique of Buddhism from an Islamic perspective. According to the back cover, the books purpose is to examine “Buddhism’s superstitious character in the light of the Quran” and let you “see clearly this superstitious religion’s more perverse aspects”. 
 As the above quotes show, the book is not an academic treatise on comparative religion, but is meant for a mass audience of ordinary people interested in religion. The back cover claims that the author Harun Yahya’s books “appeal to all kinds of readers, Muslims and Non-Muslims alike”.
As can be seen from material available on the internet, Harun Yahya is the author of numerous written works on Islam and also produces video films on the same subject. A cursory glance at his works indicates that they are aimed at educated people (though not academics) and he stresses non-violence and condemns terrorism. Some of his works claim to debunk the theory of evolution. His works are freely distributed on the internet. The book Islam and Buddhism can be found at
There is also a film, based on this book called “The Error of Buddhism” which is viewable on Youtube. The film covers the same ground as the book.
This essay, written by a Buddhist, discusses the book Islam and Buddhism by Harun Yahya and is meant to appeal to anyone with an interest in religion whether as a believer or a skeptic. While written by a Buddhist, the opinions expressed are those of the author. The author believes that this essay is unlikely to give offence and apologises in advance for any taken.
This essay will be educational for Muslims, many of whom are unaware of what Buddhists believe and would gain from seeing the points of view of others.  It will be of particular use to those who have read Harun Yahya’s Islam and Buddhism and want to know more about the subject.
Throughout this essay, the book “Islam and Buddhism” by Harun Yahya, will be referred to as “the book”.
The Introduction to the Book.
The introduction to the book is a speculative consideration of the reasons that may motivate some Westerners to adopt Buddhism. The author speculates that the main reasons for Westerners adopting Buddhism is that these people want to “attract attention by adopting Eastern culture, beliefs and philosophies” and that they are intrigued by the “superstitious, secret and awesome qualities they perceive” in Buddhism. The book asserts that they adopt Buddhism “not because they believe it, but because they are attracted by the “secrets” of the Far East or just to draw attention to themselves”.
As can be seen from the above quotations, the author is making assertions and statements regarding the motivations of people that he does not know and has never met. There is very little discussion on the subject, nor even a semblance of attempting to consider the actual words of numerous Western Buddhists, which are voluminous, and freely available on the internet.
It is unfair to make generalised assertions about Western Buddhists who are a diverse group of people. From my personal experience of having met many over the years, and from researching on the internet, the vast majority of them are humble unassuming people with very little desire to attract attention. Most do not outwardly show that they are Buddhist or interested in Buddhism, and practice their beliefs in private, in Buddhist temples and in meditation retreats. In contradiction to the books claim that “those who adopt Buddhism do so not because they believe in the logic of its philosophy..”, the actual content of Buddhism, and its answers on questions relating to life are among the strongest attractions of Buddhism to Westerners, as can be seen from the significant number of writings on the subject and numerous publications in which Western Buddhists write.
It is correct that some of the rituals and customs of Buddhist countries are an attraction to many Western Buddhists because of their colour and aesthetic beauty. Some Westerners are highly attracted to this aspect of Buddhism, while some are less attracted and see them as a distraction from the essence of Buddhism. Many are attracted to both the philosophy and the rituals and culture of Buddhism.
Aesthetic beauty and customs and traditions are important needs that many people, Buddhist and Non-Buddhist, have. Different people have different needs which they seek to fulfil through religion. For some, it is answers to important questions about life, for some it is a sense of community, for some it is to overcome grief and pain, physical and psychological. Buddhism provides for all these and many other things, and those who have an interest in it are usually among the more thoughtful, sensitive and intelligent. Even celebrities who practice Buddhism cannot be dismissed as attention seekers. They usually have enough attention and may be seeking something else which they can find through Buddhism. There are even celebrities who have taken up Islam, such as Yusuf Islam and Muhammad Ali. It would be unfair to simply dismiss them as attention seekers, and in the same way it is unfair to dismiss celebrity Buddhists.
The books introduction, contradicting itself, does touch on these aspects when it states that “Those who make propaganda on behalf of Buddhism often present it as a means of salvation. Those who long to escape from a materialist society's hard, disputatious culture— along with its worries, anxieties, quarrels, pitiless rivalry, selfishness and falsehoods—resort to Buddhism as the way to bnjachieve peace of mind, security, tolerance and a fulfilling life”. This statement is indeed correct, and describes the motivations of many Buddhists accurately. It is a rare moment of candour in the book.
Having briefly shown some evidence of having understood Buddhists, the book’s introduction then returns to its usual tone of criticism without explanation. It claims that “Buddhism is not, as it is generally thought to be, a belief that brings contentment. On the contrary, those who are taken into Buddhism are often drawn into a deep pessimism”.

The book does not provide any evidence for this claim. There is ample testimony from numerous Buddhists to the contrary which Harun Yahya should have made at least some effort at addressing. And yet he appears to be pitching the book at Buddhists. This kind of sweeping claim about Buddhists made without any backing are unlikely to convince many Buddhists about the wrongness of Buddhism as claimed by Harun Yahya.
The idea that Buddhism is pessimistic is not an invention of Harun Yahya, but a borrowing from Non-Muslim Western philosophers and clergy. It is based on the Buddhist belief in “suffering”, that dis-satisfactoriness is an integral part of life and not an aberration and hence not something that can be pushed out of our day to day existence. It is this Buddhist acceptance and understanding of the limitations of life as it is experienced that has been labelled as pessimistic. However Buddhists will point out that understanding the limitations of existence is not only the way to finding everlasting freedom, or nirvana, which is the ultimate goal of all Buddhists, but also the best way to deal with day to day problems.  I see no evidence that Buddhists or Buddhist countries are unusually pessimistic or less happy or that Muslims are unusually happy.
“Even people with a considerable level of education and modern worldview will become individuals who see nothing wrong with begging with their bowls in hand”, Harun Yahya points out. This is in reference to the Buddhist monks who live through begging. I do not know whether begging is considered to be wrong in Islam, but in Buddhism it is not. Begging involves the voluntary giving by those who have to those who have not and is beneficial to both. Buddhists believe in Karma, the concept that actions are rewarded in return, depending on whether they were based on good or bad intentions. Giving is believed by Buddhists to be beneficial to the giver. The main criticism, though not overtly stated in the book, is that Buddhist monks are people who have voluntarily entered into a state of dependence on the charity of others. In some cases, highly educated people have becoming Buddhist monks and hence dependent on the charity of others.
It is essential for Buddhist monks to be dependent on charity as there is no other alternative. To do otherwise would involve having to possess wealth or property or careers or land to cultivate. All these things would involve a sense of ownership and increase the sense of binding and attachment of the monk, which will detract from the purpose of being a monk, which is to have few attachments and possessions in order to approach the true freedom that comes from being completely unburdened.
In addition, there are many other benefits that the practice of living on charity brings, including interaction between monks and ordinary people which enables the monk to offer people moral guidance. In Buddhist countries, ordinary people seek Buddhist monks and temples in order to provide charity to them, so great is their desire to contribute to the sustenance of the monks. And Buddhist monks in Western countries find that many people are eager to contribute alms to them.

Buddhism-An Idolatrous religion

The chapter “Buddhism, An idolatrous religion” claims to prove that Buddhism is a form of idolatry. In the books zeal to criticise idolatry, it has omitted explaining what idolatry actually is. If the books purpose is to convince Buddhists of the error of their ways, then it needs to provide an explanation of what idolatry is and why it is considered to be a great wrong in Islam. In addition, it needs to give substantial evidence that Buddhists are idolaters according to the Islamic definition.

Perusing through the literature on the web, idolatry is defined as both the worship of objects and statues, but also the worship of those other than the true God. Harun Yahya is accusing Buddhists of being guilty of both these sins.

The first of the two accusations, that Buddhists are literally worshipping inanimate objects, is based on the numerous Buddha images, statues and paintings that are present in Buddhist temples and Buddhist homes to which Buddhists pay homage through verses and the offering of flowers and incense.

The book claims, in a description underneath a picture of a statue, that “this perverse religion leads people to accept the incredible idea that these statues can do them some good”. In reality, virtually all Buddhists are aware that the statues themselves are not the Buddha and merely a visual representation of the Buddha. The paying of homage to the visual representation of a person while being aware that the object itself is inanimate is probably not idolatry, even according to Islam. The book also mistakenly claims that the practice of making statues of the Buddha was initiated by the Brahmins. In fact, the first statues of the Buddha were made by the Greek rulers of West Asia who had converted to Buddhism. Therefore the idolatry that the book criticises is an invention of earlier Western Buddhists who applied Greek art forms to visually represent Buddhism.  However the book is correct that the practice of paying respect to statues of the Buddha does not come from the Buddha himself.

The other implication of accusing Buddhists of idolatry is that the Buddha is being worshipped and held in the kind of esteem that only the creator or one true God of Islam should be held in.

The book would have gained in credibility if it had made an attempt at understanding the significance of the Buddha and why he is held in high esteem by Buddhists. The Buddha was a human being of flesh and blood. He was a mortal, and he lived for 80 years and he passed away. However, he also achieved something rare and of the highest value, he attained enlightenment. He gained insight into the real nature of things and was able to discover the answers to the most profound questions, why there is suffering and how to end suffering. Having discovered this, he showed the path to others who, following his teachings, are also able to attain the only state which is free of suffering, nirvana. Without the Buddha having shown the way, there is no way for beings to escape from the cycle of existence and suffering. Therefore, the Buddha has given the highest service to the world by showing the way to end suffering. Furthermore, the Buddha’s insight and wisdom also gave him incomparable qualities like supreme universal compassion for all living beings. Upon reaching enlightenment, he had only compassion and good will towards all living beings and a desire to end their suffering, including to those who hated him and even tried to kill him. Furthermore, becoming enlightened like the Buddha is the goal of all Buddhists, so the Buddha is the ideal for Buddhists.

The Buddha’s enlightened insight and his qualities are the reason the Buddhists reflect on him and pay him homage. Doing so helps make Buddhists better Buddhists and to understand Buddhism better.

 Whether this respect and reflection on the Buddha is considered as idolatry by Non-Buddhists should not concern Buddhists. The very idea of idolatry is an intolerant one. It is only of significance to a Muslim. One has to have become a Muslim to believe that any other religious practice is a form of idolatry. It is unhelpful and pointless to criticise Non-Muslims of idolatry as the charge will be senseless to them. If the book is meant to convince Buddhists of the error of their ways, this chapter is superfluous. For it would be necessary firstly to convince Buddhists that the Buddha is not the person with the qualities that they consider him to be, then convince them that there is one true God, then that the Quran is the true revealed wisdom of that God, and only then set about to convince them that Buddhist practices are idolatry. To accuse Buddhists of idolatry, as a simple assertion, and then expect them to give it up and turn to Islam is not a very effective strategy for spreading Islam among Buddhists.

Apart from the charge of idolatry, and some brief facts and opinions on the history of Buddhism, the chapter is largely devoted to quotations from the Quran about the one true God and how all else is falsehood and idolatry. These verses are merely an assertion of Islamic belief, and have no significance or effect on those who are themselves not already believing Muslims. Everybody with even the most rudimentary understanding of Islam already knows that it is monotheistic. Merely asserting this with quotations from the Quran is unlikely to convert anyone to Islam.

This chapter is therefore a disappointment for it leaves a Buddhist mystified as to what the fuss is all about and a Muslim unenlightened about what, from an Islamic point of view, is wrong with Buddhism. All it can do is generate an emotional response from a Muslim who has already taken as an article of faith, without consideration, the idea that idolatry is wrong.

Buddhism’s Erroneous Beliefs

The main and most important chapter in the book is the one in which it claims to show Buddhism’s erroneous beliefs. 

The section begins with a brief description of the early history of Buddhism. Harun Yahya states correctly that Buddhism was transmitted orally and was written down some time after the Buddha’s life. This he takes as evidence that Buddhism today is not the word of the Buddha. In reality, few scholars dispute that Buddhism today is largely what the Buddha preached. Furthermore, as Buddhism is ultimately a guidance to attaining enlightenment, and individuals need to obtain direct experience of the truth, they are urged not to unquestioningly accept anything including Buddhism itself. Indeed there are several aspects in Buddhism that are debated by scholars but most agree on the important aspects of Buddhism. Furthermore, Buddhists maintain that they can agree to disagree on the various points and there is no attempt to impose one Buddhist’s views on another, as all individuals have to gain their own understanding and not submit to dogmatic belief.

The book then mentions the Tripitaka, what it calls Buddhism’s holy book. In reality, there is no single volume as the Tripitaka encompasses several volumes. After a brief reiteration of the idolatry claim the chapter criticises Buddhism for being atheistic and not “accounting for questions of how this world's flawless systems function, much less how the entire universe came to be”.
The question of whether God exists or not is a much debated subject and I will merely be covering old ground if I were to repeat any of this material. Many people, including Harun Yahya, have written on this subject. It should be pointed out that, like the idolatry charge, the charge of atheism will not actually convert Buddhists to Islam. Many people do not believe in God and for them it may be a positive that Buddhism does not require God to obtain salvation.
Harun Yahya is only partially correct when he asserts that Buddhism “keeps its believers from considering such basic questions as where they came from, or how the universe and all living things came to be. Indeed, it deters them from even thinking about these things and presses them into the narrow mould of their present earthly life.” Regarding where we come from, the Buddha stated that we have been within samsara, the process of existence, enduring life after life for an incalculable time period. He did not reveal an actual beginning of the universe or of existence. This was because the Buddha had a specific purpose, to end suffering. To gain the insight needed to achieve this, a being needs to understand the present with clear unfettered insight. When this is achieved, enlightenment can be reached and nirvana arrived at. It would be counter-productive to spend time speculating on the origin of the universe. Buddhism doesn’t claim to have an answer to all questions, only the important ones, those that will bring us to the end of suffering.

The chapter then states what is probably the biggest inaccuracy in the whole book, that Buddhism encourages people to suffer. This is based on the confusion about various elements in Buddhism. Buddhists would spot the errors instantly, but Non-Buddhists may believe them.
The book makes an outright statement that Buddhists believe that hunger, misery and pain guide the way to the truth. There is also a picture of a statue of Siddartha (the Buddha prior to enlightenment) in a near starved state. In actual fact, Siddartha spent several years in the wilderness seeking the truth. He came across several other gurus of the time. As his mission was to find the reason for, and the means to end suffering, at one stage he practiced an arduous life of extreme hardship in the mistaken belief that this would provide him with the insight that would help him end suffering. He later abandoned that path having seen its unproductiveness and subsequently attained enlightenment. This is a well known fact to Buddhists, and they would immediately spot the error in the book. For self-mortification was rejected by the Buddha and is not a part of Buddhism. It is therefore a mistake to include this glaring error in the book, if its purpose is to convert Buddhists to Islam. It may, however, succeed in misguiding Muslims about what Buddhism is.

It appears that Harun Yahya has confused two aspects, the period of suffering and deliberate starvation that Siddhartha underwent and then subsequently rejected with the simple ascetic life that he preached and that Buddhist monks follow to this day.
The latter life may be considered as austere by some, but the discipline of the monks is designed to reduce the attachments and burdens associated with life and to enable them to live simply, without being an excessive burden to others. Being a Buddhist monk is voluntary and a monk can disrobe at any time. Many monks consider the life of a monk to be a huge release from the burdens associated with ownership, careers, wealth and relationships. The monk’s life enables him to focus on Buddhist practice and seek enlightenment with minimum attachments to worldly matters.  Rules regarding living simply and having few possessions are for the benefit of the monks and aid spiritual attainment.

Readers should seek out the testimony of monks regarding this matter. It is disingenuous of Harun Yahya to assert that a monk’s life is one of suffering without seeking the opinions of the monks themselves. There is a verse from the Quran quoted in the book which appears to describe the release of Muslim converts from slavery. The inclusion of this quote in this section implies that Buddhism somehow tolerates slavery, presumably of the Buddhist monks. However, as being a monk is voluntary, this quotation is misleading.

Furthermore, many historic figures that Muslims venerate, like Jesus, whom Muslims consider to be a prophet, lived a similar life of poverty removed from worldly comforts. Even the Prophet Muhammad would spend time in the wilderness away from urban life. And yet when Buddhist monks do the same it is considered to be worthy of criticism by Harun Yahya.

The section follows on with a repeat of the claim that Buddhism is pessimistic, which I have discussed above. Harun Yahya quotes from the Catholic Encyclopaedia a paragraph on this subject. The description contrasts nirvana with what it describes as the Catholic ideal the “perfection of rational life”. The idea of nirvana and what nirvana is, is beyond the scope of this document, but those that have experienced it have attained a far higher bliss than anything that mundane existence can provide. The quotation also has inaccuracies, the most blatant one being the claim that “The development of the mind is limited to the memorizing of Buddhist texts and the study of Buddhist metaphysics”. This ignores the practice of meditation and the gaining of insight, as it is an essential fact that enlightenment has to be realised by every individual and reading about it in books alone will not achieve that. Harun Yahya should not make the mistake of writing a book about Buddhism and then quote from an obviously biased source like the Catholic encyclopaedia. Similarly, there may be dubious interpretations regarding Islam in Christian and other sources, and someone writing a book on Islam should primarily rely on Islamic sources and not other sources.

Then the book makes the following sweeping assertions, “Islam does not make its adherents indifferent; on the contrary, it calls them to liveliness, activity, and joy. All those who adopt the teachings of Islam are very sensitive to what goes on around them. They do not regard the world as Buddhism does, as chaos to avert the eyes from, but as a testing place—an arena in which they can put the high moral teachings of the Quran into practice. For this reason, Islamic history is full of just and successful leaders who ensured comfortable and happy lives for their people. In sharp contrast, Buddhism produces only wretched adherents who cause themselves suffering, drag themselves and others into passivity and poverty, and whose only solution to the problems they encounter is to immolate themselves”.

The above is the kind of bold but unsubstantiated claim that does much to damage the credibility of the book. It claims that Muslims are sensitive to what goes around them. Muslims are often sensitive to what they perceive as insults to their religion. Sometimes their over sensitiveness to these matters may be oppressive to others. However, there is little evidence that Muslims are sensitive to the suffering of others, including animals, Non-Muslims or even Muslims of other sects. However, it may be that Muslims are simply not interpreting Islam correctly and that people like Harun Yahya are sensitive in these matters and cultivating this sensitivity in their fellow Muslims. This is a matter for Muslims to reflect upon and improve upon.
An examination of the rulers of the Islamic World today does not give the impression that it is full of “just and successful rulers”. There is little evidence that even in the past, the bulk of Islamic rulers were just. In many cases their actions were profoundly unjust, especially towards Non-Muslims. In the Buddhist World, no one would claim that most of the rulers were perfect, but the tolerance they have shown towards Non-Buddhists is certainly far greater than that of Muslim rulers towards Non-Muslims. Also, there have been many just and civilised Buddhist rulers, the most famous of whom is Asoka, who is almost universally acknowledged as one of the most tolerant and compassionate rulers of all time.

Regarding Buddhists, it is correct to say that they view the world as being chaotic and disorderly, and beyond control. However, the world is to be understood as it is, rather than escaped from, and gaining insight involves doing precisely this. Suffering has to be confronted and observed, dispassionately, in order to understand and overcome it. Pretending that the world is orderly or that it is place of protection and safety is a form of wilful blindness and window dressing, the opposite of Buddhism, which is based on realising the true nature of things.

Of the claim that Buddhism drags people into passivity and poverty, the latter has been discussed above regarding the discipline of the monks which is voluntary and also a form of freedom. Buddhists are anything but passive, as they believe that through their own efforts, they can overcome suffering. This makes Buddhism the least passive of all religions.

The book follows with a short section calling Buddhism a pagan religion. This adds little that was not said earlier regarding idolatry. The word pagan, like idolater, has an emotional and pejorative significance in the eyes of Muslims but means nothing to a Buddhist. Accusing Buddhists of being pagan will make no more converts for Islam than accusing them of idolatry.

Belief in Karma

The next section in the same chapter is titled “Belief in Karma”. This is an important section and Harun Yahya has made some attempt at understanding the Buddhist doctrine of Karma. He is correct that Buddhists believe that Karma from the past influences our current state. As he points out, Karma means to act, or action, and it also means the results of action. Buddhists believe that good karma leads to good results and bad karma leads to bad results. The ultimate goal is to overcome all karma and enter a state where karma will not affect us, nirvana.

Karma is complex, and some karma can overcome other karma, for good and bad. We are also committing karma all the time, not just with our actions but with our words and thoughts as well. Our present karma gives us the possibility of overcoming our past karma. However, the possibility of being influenced by our past karma means that our lives will be uncertain. Past karma is also the explanation for why many good people, of all religious faiths, suffer tragic fates. Past karma is why life can overcome people no matter how hard they may try to improve their position and no matter how good they may have been in this particular life. Even enlightened Buddhist monks (like Moggallana, one of the Buddha’s chief disciples) have suffered violent deaths due to bad karma committed in previous lives.

Harun Yahya is incorrect that karma is about condemning people’s present suffering. On the contrary, the whole purpose of Buddhism is to reduce and end suffering, but this requires understanding and accepting the fact of karma. The bad effects should not be seen as retribution, as there is no being carrying them out. Furthermore, karma is not justice. It is merely a fact of life. Even the Buddha himself suffered from ailments and pains as a result of past karma. No Buddhist believes that the Buddha deserved to suffer.

The idea of karma may have influenced the caste system, but the Buddha himself rejected the idea that caste determines a person’s worth. The idea that a person’s past karma should be used as an excuse to oppress them is completely opposed to Buddhism. Furthermore, Buddhists don’t believe that Buddhism arose from Hinduism as Harun Yahya claims but from the wisdom and insight gained by the Buddha himself.

The idea that being weak or ill is a test from God, as stated in the book, is the usual non-explanation that people like Harun Yahya give for all the suffering in the world. The reality is that the world is full of all kinds of suffering, but Harun Yahya wants to dress this all up as beauty and order emanating from God, and he believes that congenital blindness and cancer are tests from God. Such claims may help people to deal with their suffering but they are not a reasonable answer.

If Islam has a high sense of social justice, as Harun Yahya claims, that should be encouraged. The huge levels of inequality in some Muslim countries may lead some people to dispute this idea. However, Harun Yahya is correct in urging Muslims to be socially responsible.

Buddhists also have a high sense of charity and even in the time of the Buddha, wealthy Buddhists were known for their charitable service. There are numerous charities in Buddhist countries, and in general, inequality is less in Buddhist countries than in Muslim countries. Being charitable is believed to be good karma by Buddhists which encourages them to practice it.

Harun Yahya then asks the question of how karma operates. Buddhists, as he correctly points out, believe that it happens through natural processes. Like all other natural laws, it does not need a God to make it happen. Some monotheists believe that God is determining everything at all times, others that God created laws in the beginning and let them work themselves. It is not clear which of these Harun Yahya believes as he states that all natural laws are created by God but he also believes that “no single leaf falls apart from the will of God”. In other words that at every moment every single occurrence happens due to the present will of God.

If God’s will is necessary for every leaf to fall then it is also presumably necessary for God’s will to make every human occurrence and event, whether fortunate or not. But if leaves falling can happen according to natural laws, then the same can be said of human fate, and God is not necessary for karma to occur.

Regarding Reincarnation, Harun Yahya merely asserts that the Quran states that there is one life on earth followed by an eternity in heaven or hell. This is a very simple vision but also exceedingly cruel, for punishing a person for eternity for having been a bad person for a mere human lifespan is not just. Buddhists will question whether an eternity in hell is a fair punishment and whether it is likely that such a universe could ever have been created by a conscious being, let alone one who is supposed to be merciful. This idea will seem incongruous and is unlikely to convert many Buddhists to Islam.

By contrast, in Buddhism, all beings, even those that are the worst behaved today, have the possibility of future enlightenment.

 Even Devadatta, who attempted to murder the Buddha 3 times, will in some time in the future attain enlightenment and escape all suffering. The only eternal state possible in Buddhism is nirvana. All other states, whether pleasurable or un-pleasurable, are temporary.

Furthermore, Harun Yahya quotes verses from the Quran that state that no-one is reborn again. These claims are unlikely to convert any Buddhists, as the one life on earth only followed by eternity in heaven or hell, as reward or punishment for actions of a mere 60 or 70 years doesn’t ring true to Buddhists. Furthermore, there are numerous cases of people who have memories of past lives which have been verified independently. These memories have been present in people who are not of Buddhist or Hindu background.

Reincarnation according to Islam

In the section called Reincarnation according to Islam, several quotes from the Quran give what Harun Yahya claims is the Islamic point of view regarding reincarnation, that there is only one life and one re-incarnation.  Most of the claims and assertions will not convert Buddhists to Islam as they are simply assertions, made by someone who already believes these things simply because they are in the Quran rather than because they have logically reasoned them. Indeed there is no evidence presented for any of the claims and the reader is invited to simply accept these as truth. It is unlikely that simple quotation from the Quran is enough to convert people to the Islamic point of view, especially the freethinking Western Buddhists that the book appears to be aimed at. Such people may even feel insulted at merely being told to believe something.

Within this section, it is mentioned that God sends the Angel of Death at an allotted hour. There is no explanation of why this allotted hour is so different for different people. Some people die at birth. Others when a few days old. Many die when a few years old. And this happens even though according to Islam as explained by Harun Yahya, “every human being is dead to begin with; that is, he is created out of the basic inanimate elements of soil, water and mud. Then, God "formed and proportioned" this lifeless mass and brought him to life”. In other words according to Islam, God creates some people from mere matter and gives them a mind only to kill them a few days later.  Furthermore, among those dying young are people of every religion, including Muslims. There is no explanation in Islam as to why this is. Buddhism provides the answer in the form of karma for it is karma that determines lifespan. If Islam is correct, then Muslims have to believe that Allah kills young Muslim children who have done no wrong while giving some Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians and athiests long healthy lives. Muslims everywhere suffer from disasters man made and natural. Earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and wars affect Muslims as much as, if not more than Non-Muslims, all presumably the work of Allah.

It needs to be mentioned here that even some Muslims believe in reincarnation and believe that people have had previous lives and they believe that the Quran can be interpreted in that way. This shows that the ideas on reincarnation presented by Harun Yahya are not incontestable even within Islam. They are therefore not likely to convert many Buddhists to Islam.

In the section, there is also a warning from the Quran that life is uncertain and that death can happen at any time. Here, Islam is on common ground with Buddhism, with its advice for people to be heedful as life is impermanent and that death can come at any moment. This is further evidence of the chaotic nature of life and not of ordered beauty.
Buddhism' s Misguided Belief About the Afterlife

In this section, the book criticises the Buddhist belief that Paradise and Hell are transitory and reiterates the Islamic beliefs that these are eternal. Harun Yahya believes that the merciful God allows beings to burn in hell for all eternity, for having done wrong for a mere 60 or 70 years. Presumably after a few billion years of burning in hell, the sinners would have learned their lesson and God could release them from their suffering, but chooses not to do so.

The book considers it a weakness, that Buddhism does not require God to explain how the world works. However, to many, this will be a strength rather than a weakness.

The book also criticises Buddhism for not answering the question of how the universe came into being, but Buddhism’s purpose is not to answer that question. However, Muslims themselves are not interested in the answers to these questions, for they do not avidly await the discoveries of cosmology, which determine the state of the universe during its very inception at the big bang. Muslims have little interest in the origins of the universe, but only in reiterating what the Quran has said as fact and believing this and inviting others to do the same. This is unlikely to satisfy many educated people in the modern world. Furthermore the claim that there is “flawless creative art evident in all living beings” including cockroaches and bacteria is absurd. The very existence of all these competing and contradictory tendencies in the world which often conflict with and prey upon each other shows that the universe is not governed by a flawless creation but by the natural processes of life caused ultimately by the ego and desire of all beings which perpetuates life and suffering often in the most unpleasant forms.

Buddhism does not claim to be the answer to everything, but only to the most important questions regarding our existence and the way to escape from suffering. Hence, science and cosmology are important in unravelling the mysteries that Buddhism does not answer.

Buddhism only seeks to answer the questions regarding why suffering is perpetuating and how this can be stopped. It is like a driver in a moving car who wants to know how to stop the car. He doesn’t need to know where the car started its journey, only how the car keeps on moving and how to stop it from moving. To many it will be a strength of Buddhism, that it does not claim to offer an explanation for every phenomenon.

Buddhism’s idea of the life of this world

The book then criticises Buddhism because of the Buddhist belief that all people can ultimately redeem themselves because, even if they have done harmful acts in the past, and may suffer as a consequence, the door remains open to them to escape suffering. The criticism of this that the book offers is based on Harun Yahya’s absurd idea that people will sin unless they believed that hell is eternal.

Furthermore, in Buddhism, all beings have the ability to ultimately attain nirvana as all beings have the capacity to gain greater wisdom and put aside the errors they have made in the past. This is harder for some beings than others because the levels of past Buddhist practice and recent behaviour and attitudes differ significantly between various beings but the possibility exists for all. That this possibility makes people more sinful is absurd.

The same section is full of yet more exhortations about God which will be meaningless to a Buddhist. The section also acknowledges that Buddhism urges Buddhists to do good though in the view of the book, this is meaningless because there is no belief in God accompanying the good deed. However the recipient of the good deed will benefit, and according to Buddhism the doer will also benefit due to karma. It is not necessary for a third party for an act of generosity or goodwill to be beneficial.

The book then quotes some Islamic verses that urge people not to be too attached to this life and to be concerned about the hereafter. These versus are  in a similar spirit to that of  Buddhism, which sees that this life is transitory and ephemeral, and holds that seeking ultimate salvation or nirvana, is the most fruitful purpose in life. This is why the Buddhist monks give up on worldly attachments and become monks, which strangely the book criticised in earlier chapters.

There are also some comments associated with the pictures that accompany this section. One criticises the practice of meditation claiming that the benefits of it are temporary. However, many people have gained significant benefits from the practice of meditation and it is one of the main reasons why many Westerners are attracted to Buddhism. Even within some sections of the scientific community, which are not Buddhist, it is becoming accepted that meditation has psychological benefits.

The book points out to some people who are prostrating themselves in front of a Buddha statue. The Buddhists who do this are not expecting the Buddha to deliver them some worldly benefit as Harun Yahya claims. They are instead paying respect to the man who with incomparable wisdom and limitless compassion sought to liberate all beings.

Buddhism and Materialist Western Culture

This chapter is revealing because it shows the real purpose that this book was written for. The opening sentence of the chapter claims that “one reason why Buddhism has come to the world's attention is not because of its existence in the Far East—its traditional home—but thanks to propaganda spread in the West”. What this shows is that Harun Yahya is not especially concerned with what Buddhists in traditionally Buddhist countries think or do, but is very concerned with the more developed populations of the Western countries. It bothers the author that many educated Western people have been interested in Buddhism, while few educated Westerners have shown an interest in Islam. Indeed, in the Western world, the general opinion held by people of Islam is not very high. While Islam has gained adherents among some, usually poorer people, often convicts, it is not on the verge of converting significant numbers of educated Western people. This is a complete reversal of the order of things as Harun Yahya would wish. This chapter makes an attempt at explaining what to Harun Yahya, is a disturbing reality.

The process by which Buddhism has become known in the West is described in the book as propaganda. Contradicting himself, Harun Yahya describes this propaganda as arising in the 19th century, but then claims that it is a fad from the 1960’s.

Firstly, Buddhism did not emerge in the West as a result of propaganda. Buddhism became known in the West initially largely through the activities of oriental scholars who studied the voluminous Buddhist literature in Pali, Sanskrit and other languages. Many Western philosophers were also impressed by Buddhism. Indeed, some of the finest minds of the time were unable to reconcile their understanding of life with Christianity and were rejecting it. As these individuals were free thinkers and scholars, it is difficult to understand why Harun Yahya uses the word propaganda to describe these people’s opinions.  Western societies remained Christian and the interest in Buddhism was confined to intellectual circles.

Having written that the Western intellectuals were interested in Buddhism, he then goes on to claim again that Buddhism is not rational, yet the philosophers that he criticises were all rational thinkers. And yet rationalism and reason are opposed to faith, which is what Harun Yahya is urging people to have.

Harun Yahya is in a quandary because rational people, i.e. Western philosophers and intellectuals have rejected the core beliefs that make up the Abrahamic religions including Islam. He is unable to debunk their beliefs, he merely criticises them for being Darwinian etc. A flaw throughout the book is to make a criticism based on the mere assertion that Buddhism is Darwinian or atheistic or idolatrous without having made a convincing case against those things. As I mentioned earlier, this type of argument is only valid for a Muslim who already believes as an act of faith that say, Darwinism, is wrong. It is a pointless strategy to try to convert people to Islam by doing this as they may not see being Darwinian or atheistic as being a weakness.

Harun Yahya points out that philosophers like Huxley and Nietzsche have praised some aspects of Buddhism but it is incorrect to describe them as Buddhists. Incidental praise for Buddhism does not make someone a Buddhist.

Harun Yahya then asserts that there is clear scientific proof that the universe was created. This is an opinion held by creationists who wish to reconcile scientific facts with revealed religion. Whether these opinions are true or not, they cannot be called “clear scientific proof”, as the views are not held by the bulk of the scientists, most of whom do not believe in the theory of intelligent design. While Harun Yahya incorrectly claims that Buddhism has spread in the West by propaganda, he ignores the fact that ideas like intelligent design are themselves spread by propaganda largely by Christian groups. While Harun Yahya accepts the big bang theory and in the book claims that this is proof of creation, many Muslims still believe, as did all Muslims prior to the arrival of modern science, that the world was created a few thousand years ago. Presumably, Harun Yahya and those Muslims who like him believe that the world was created much earlier are victims of atheistic propaganda too.

The same chapter also confusingly mentions the Hippie movement of the 60s and Buddhism as a fad of the time. In reality, a handful of Westerners had become Buddhist monks long before this period and most Western Buddhists had nothing to do with the Hippie movement. Furthermore, the number of Western Buddhists is now larger than ever before, long after the 60s hippie movement has faded away. It can be seen that Buddhism in the West is not a passing fad, and this is one reason why Harun Yahya has written this book. Harun Yahya also claims that Hollywood propaganda has influenced people to take up Buddhism. I have yet to come across a Buddhist who converted to Buddhism because of a Hollywood movie. In fact, there are very few Hollywood movies in which Buddhism plays a significant part, and it is absurd to suggest that Buddhism in the West grew because of Hollywood.

Harun Yahya mentions in contrast that Hollywood does not depict Islam in a good light. While there is some truth in this, Muslim countries have vast sums of money and could easily create any number of pro Islamic films for propaganda purposes. Indeed, vast sums of money are spent on Islamic propaganda by countries like Saudi Arabia. Even the books of Harun Yahya himself are a result of this. However, the actual effect of this is minor in terms of obtaining converts in Western countries. By contrast, there is very little organised Buddhist propaganda, and Buddhism spreads in the West informally through the efforts of Western Buddhists most of whom arrive at Buddhism through their own efforts and inquiry. Ultimately, Buddhism spreads because of its ability to answer questions that people want answers to.  Harun Yahya is engaging in wishful thinking when he says “many who become Buddhists are largely influenced by a desire to unwittingly and blindly imitate something they do not understand, simply to attract attention and pretend that they are, indeed, aware and sophisticated”. He cannot bring himself to accept that most Western Buddhists are intelligent enough to make a considered opinion. Furthermore, most Western Buddhists do not even reveal that they are Buddhists, and doing so does not get them much attention. They are content to practice Buddhism in private, and see faith as a private matter.

He is also deluding himself when he claims that “if these individuals learned about true Islam, certainly their hearts would be warmed”. He seems to believe that these people are simply unaware of “true Islam”. In reality, most of these people are well aware of the essence of Islam. If one were to remove the most unattractive features of Islam such as the cruel punishments and doctrines like Jihad, which are presumably not a part of the “true Islam”, one is still left with a religion that is in its essence, very similar to Christianity, the ancestral faith of the bulk of the Western Buddhists and which hence they are well aware of.

By contrast, most Muslims know virtually nothing about Buddhism as they have no access to it. Even Harun Yahya, having made some attempts at understanding it, shows a great deal of ignorance on the subject.

Therefore it can be seen that the vast majority of Western Buddhists have freely entered into Buddhism, and have done so having significant knowledge of essential Islamic beliefs while the vast majority of Muslims know only Islam and believe in it as nothing else has been allowed near them.

There is no doubt an attractiveness of Buddhist art, temples and Buddhist culture to some Westerners. By contrast, there is no such attraction to Islamic culture for Westerners. There are even many Asian Buddhist monks who have a significant following among the Western Buddhists such as the Dalai lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Achaan Chah and many others as well as respected monks of Western origin who are too numerous to mention here. By contrast, virtually no prominent Islamic theologian exists with appeal to mainstream Westerners, and people like Louis Farrakhan have appeal to black people only and are not considered to be mainstream Muslims. The Islamic preachers who have appeal in the West usually do so only among people who are immigrants from Muslim countries. This is despite the fact that moderate Muslims are often promoted in Western societies. For example, as I write, the chairperson of the governing party in the UK is a Muslim woman, but it is unlikely that any Westerners have been converted to Islam because of this fact.

Furthermore, Eastern Buddhist societies have an attraction for Westerners that Islamic societies do not. For example, many tourists travel to countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Nepal and Tibet and are impressed by the Buddhist culture there even when they have no understanding of or interest in Buddhism. By contrast, most visitors to Islamic countries such as Egypt or Iraq will be interested in the pre Islamic culture and ruins and not Islam.

The chapter also seeks throughout to equate Buddhism with materialism. Harun Yahya’s logic seems to be that, atheism and materialism are linked, Buddhists are athiests, therefore Buddhism is materialism. In fact, atheism and materialism are not the same thing. Harun Yahya seems to assume that belief in God and materialism are two opposites. Some would argue that Islam is a materialistic religion. Even the Islamic paradise is a place of material comfort and sensual pleasure. By contrast, Buddhism is a very non-materialistic philosophy. The ultimate Buddhist goal of nirvana is the opposite of any material aim. Most Western Buddhists are interested in Buddhism at least in part because it is not materialistic. Harun Yahya claims that Buddhism predominates wherever a materialistic culture predominates. However countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are among the most materialistic societies, but one sees little Buddhism there.

Could Buddhism be a true religion that became distorted

The next chapter entertains the idea that Buddhism began as a God revealed religion and that the Buddha was another prophet. In other words, the religion originally preached by the Buddha was akin to Islam and the current religion practised by Buddhists is a corruption.
It will suffice to say that Buddhism is very different from the Abrahamic religions and could not possibly have descended from one. Furthermore, no scholar who is acquainted with Buddhism has ever even suggested that Buddhism ever began as a God revealed religion or that the Buddha ever claimed to be a prophet of God.

It appears that in this chapter, Harun Yahya is trying to explain away the elements in Buddhism (from what little he seems to know about it) that even he cannot but acknowledge as undoubtedly good things, but cannot accept that they may have not come from God. It is somewhat pathetic that he believes that the idea that one should not harm others must come from God. The simple concepts of reciprocity and empathy alone are enough to encourage people not to harm others.

It is wrongly stated in this chapter that the Buddha predicted the end times. The book bases this on the predictions regarding the future Buddha, Maitreya. While the Buddha stated that there will be Buddhas in the future, there is no end time in Buddhism, just as there is no known beginning. Instead, there is potentially no end to the round of samsara for any living being, unless it finds nirvana.

This chapter indicates that Harun Yahya believes that Buddhists can be converted to Islam by arguing that Buddhism is a corruption of Islam.  However, the Buddhists are Buddhist because of their affinity to the Buddhist faith as they see it. And most of them, as explained above, already understand what the essentials of Islam are and have not chosen to convert. They are not likely to be swayed by the claim that Islam is a purification of Buddhism.

Conclusion- Truth has come

The concluding chapter is an invitation to Buddhists to become Muslims. The chapter asserts that the Buddhists are deceived, and that they should take up Islam. There is nothing new in this chapter, and the Buddhists who were not convinced by the previous chapters will not be convinced by this one. It is only an assertion that Islam is true. All that Harun Yahya can do is simply make assertions that Islam is true and Buddhism is false. It is a reflection of the completely biased and subjective mindset of the author that he seems to believe at this stage in the book that he has demonstrated that Islam is true as opposed to merely asserting this.

An Appraisal

Harun Yahya’s book has a clear aim, to show Buddhism in a bad light and Islam in a good light. It seems to be aimed at Western Buddhists. However, the book shows very little understanding of Western Buddhists and even disparages them with misleading criticism. Harun Yahya should have made a better effort at understanding Western Buddhists which would not have been difficult due to the voluminous literature written by them available on the internet.

The book also has errors in its explanations of Buddhism, which would not be missed by most knowledgeable Buddhists.
The books explanations of Islam are simple statements or assertions. This is largely because Islam, being a revealed religion is nothing more than a series of statements or assertions. Very little in Islam can be arrived at through logic or reasoning. It is a series of “this is so” claims that must be believed rather than understood. As a believing Muslim, Harun Yahya inevitably will disagree with Buddhism, not because his logical brain tells him that Buddhism isn’t true but because the Quran tells him so. He will disagree with scientific facts for the same reason.

But this is a flaw in Islam that will prevent it from being accepted by educated people in Western countries and elsewhere. Such people are not going to respond well to a demand that they simply accept an idea because it happens to be in the Quran. Unless the idea is profound and rings true to them, they are unlikely to be moved by it. The basic ideas of Islam are similar to those of Christianity and Judaism. Educated Christians or Jews are unlikely to become Muslims as there is nothing new in Islam that can be offered to them. And if these people have come to disbelieve in Christianity or Judaism, they will probably disbelieve in Islam too.

This book reflects a fantasy among some Muslims, that large numbers of Non-Muslims, especially educated people from Non-Muslim societies can be converted to Islam. For all the anti-Westernism that pervades Islamic societies, the Muslims are fascinated with the Western world and its culture. As can be observed from the internet, Harun Yahya himself cultivates an air of Westernised sophistication through his dress sense and grooming. Muslims know that educated Westerners set the standard for the world and many Muslims simply follow this. Most wealthy Muslims are thoroughly Westernized in outward form even in countries like Saudi Arabia, though with little of the liberal ideas that constitute mainstream Western thinking. Non Western societies like the Far East or the Indian Subcontinent or Africa can be dismissed as primitive or backward or idolatrous by Muslims but it is harder for them to do this with the West. The rejection of God and similar ideas by many educated people in the West is disturbing to some Muslims because it raises fears among Muslims that Islam will be rejected by educated and sophisticated people and that it will become a religion of the uneducated only.

Islam hovers between these two extremes of triumphalism and insecurity, which is reflected in the grandiose tones taken by books like this and the fearful reactions of Muslims to any criticism from others towards Islam. The arrogant tones used in this book may be satisfying to Muslims and give them the misguided feeling that they have won the argument against Buddhism (or evolution or any other idea different from Islam), but it will not help to sell Islam to Non-Muslims. This is especially the case as the argument is a straw man argument which ridicules not Buddhism itself but a misconception of Buddhism. It is indicative of the lack of objectivity and incapability of Harun Yahya to see things from the point of view of those whose beliefs are different from his, that he believes that such a superficially argued case could actually lead to conversions of people to Islam.

Muslims like Harun Yahya do not think deeply about whether Islam is true or not. Instead their minds are terrified at even the remote possibility that Islam may not be true and seek ways to short circuit the thinking process and arrive at the position of continuing to be a believer while having pretended to have dealt with the difficult questions and to have adequately debated their position. Books like Islam and Buddhism by Harun Yahya do exactly this, and provide unthinking Muslims with the comforting but incorrect belief that Buddhism has been addressed in a process of rigorous thinking and dismissed accordingly. Many Muslims will no doubt have read this book and come to this conclusion. They will similarly believe, having read Harun Yahya’s other books that evolution has also been debunked. It is a sign of the poor quality of thinking and lack of a genuine spirit of inquiry and the intellectual cowardice that exists among Muslims that such books, which do a very poor job of arguing Islam’s case to a Non-Muslim, are published and given publicity. And yet the same people cannot understand why such books have little impact on Non-Muslims and why there are so few intellectual Non-Muslims converting. And Muslims often react with genuine anger that someone does not believe in Islam or that someone believes in a religion like Buddhism.

In general Muslims are digging themselves into a deeper hole of self satisfied subjectivity which lashes out in anger whenever the cocoon is punctured by anything critical from outside. Islam has become defensive intellectually, and while Harun Yahya may think he is an exception, he is not. He merely fulfils the function of maintaining the illusion among Muslims that they have won the arguments (which the bulk of the Muslims barely understand and don’t want to understand).  This hole is not a good place for Muslims to be in, and many Muslims are realising that and trying to find a way out by engaging with others and with the stream of ideas from outside of the Islamic canon. Perhaps Harun Yahya is one of them. If he is, he has not found the way out. For merely reasserting Islamic assertions, and pretending that they are self-evident will only keep himself and Muslims in that hole.

Muslims need to accept that Islam, even if true, is not the whole truth. They must not take the position of Caliph Omar prior to burning the library of Alexandria that the books in it “will either contradict the Koran, in which case they are heresy, or they will agree with it, so they are superfluous”. For the bulk of human knowledge does not fit in with either of these two categories.

Muslims today are forced to accept that there is much scientific knowledge outside of Islam, but they limit this to practical matters of technology and engineering which they feel they cannot do without. They feel that they can reject anything that they do not need for their material wellbeing as long as it is not a part of Islam. So Muslims will accept cell biology but reject evolutionary biology as the former is essential to medicine but the latter is not. Going further, Muslims will reject any ideas from philosophy or other religions. This includes not only ideas that contradict Islam but all ideas which address that which Islam does not even touch upon. For example, an Islamic court in Malaysia banned Yoga because they considered it to be un-Islamic. As Muslims believe that all that is important is revealed in the Quran, and have made half hearted concessions to some practical ideas and science and technology out of necessity, they are not interested in anything else.

But this means that Muslims become blind to what others may find attractive in other philosophies and religions like Buddhism. A Buddhist may understand, though not agree with what believers of another religion such as Islam see in it, but many Muslims appear to be utterly blind and even mystified as to what  people of other religions such as Buddhism may find attractive in their religion. Harun Yahya is guilty of this. He is confused that many educated people may find a philosophy like Buddhism attractive and believes that all he needs to do to convert them to Islam is to push some quotes from the Quran in their faces.

If Muslims like Harun Yahya want to reach out to Buddhists, they must first understand what is attractive about Buddhism and why many Westerners have become Buddhists. To do so requires acknowledgement that other beliefs and teachings outside of Islam may also have much that is of value in them and can benefit humanity. It will also make the Muslims more tolerant of others which is a skill and mental adjustment that many Muslims need to make for their own wellbeing in order to avoid being cast out and rejected by the rest of humanity. Muslims need to realise that understanding where other people stand and why, and accepting that they may have good reason to do so, not only increases the accuracy of the Muslims’ perspective on the rest of humanity, but is also in their own pragmatic self-interest. Muslims need to understand that differing perspectives will always exist and that there will be people who do not see things the way they do and that those people will often be intelligent, good hearted and well meaning people. Understanding thus is a pre-requisite for Muslims in their own self-interest. For there is a risk that Muslims and their culture will be rejected en masse in the West and elsewhere not only by the more xenophobic and intolerant Non-Muslims but also by the more tolerant and open minded people, among whom the Western Buddhists tend to belong, in reaction to the Muslims’ own unthinking reflexive dismissal of all other ideas and forms of belief. Such people will simply avoid Muslims because of the unpleasantness of the arrogance and intolerance of the Muslims. It can be seen that this is already happening and that Muslims are being marginalised because of this.

In order to advance harmony between Muslims and others, Muslims should acquire a more in depth and open minded understanding of other faiths and secular ideas that are current in the world. This is especially true of those who seek to outreach and interact with Non-Muslims, whether to convert them to Islam or not. Muslims should not rely on other Muslims, like Harun Yahya to explain Non-Muslim ideas or beliefs such as Buddhism. Instead they should seek to understand those ideas directly from the exponents of those ideas, seeking to understand Buddhism through Buddhist sources, and only after having given some thought and consideration to these ideas should they seek Islamic explanations from people like Harun Yahya. Furthermore, Muslims should not accept an explanation because they happen to find it comforting, or because it fits with their existing beliefs. They should consider deeply whether the explanations given are truly satisfying or whether they leave unanswered questions and doubts. They should try to be honest with themselves about why they believe in anything, including Islam. Only by doing so can they gain a good understanding of their own religion Islam, let alone any other beliefs like Buddhism.


  1. A well-written response to a misrepresentation of Buddhist thought. Bodhidas has critiqued Yahya effectively, but with compassion & a concern for truth.

    An excellently written article. I hope the writer (Bodhidas) continues to go from strength to strength in his exposition of Buddhist ideas.

    He (Bodhidas) comes from a long line of Buddhist scholars.

    I sincerely hope he continues the good work.

    With Metta (universal loving kindness),

    A. R.

  2. Thank you Ven. Bodhidas for this excellent essay which reflects wisdom, insight and common sense of a practicing Buddhist.

    I have learned much from this article.

    Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

  3. Hi,
    Liked your blog. Good luck.

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