Source: The New Nation
Masood Butt is a Tibetan, living in India. But, unlike most other Tibetans in exile, who are Buddhists, Butt is a Muslim. However, apart from his faith, there is little else to distinguish Butt from other Tibetans. He follows Tibetan customs, speaks the language fluently and regards the Dalai Lama as his leader. Yet, Butt's community - the Tibetan Muslims - are little known in India, even though they have shared with their Buddhist brethren, the plight of leaving their homeland. And they have been living in India for the last 50 years."Like other Tibetans, our community, too has faced tough times and undergone great mental and physical strain," says Butt, who now works with the Dalai Lama's office in Dharamsala.
The story of the Tibetan Muslims is that of a unique community, that has blended different cultural strains to forge a distinct identity, that has been kept alive even in the face of adversity. What is interesting to know is that Islam arrived almost a 1000 years ago in Tibet - a region that has always been synonymous with a monolithic Buddhist culture. How the first Muslim settlers reached Tibet is an interesting tale. Sometime in the 12th century, it is believed, a group of Muslim traders from Kashmir and Ladakh came to Tibet as merchants. Many of these traders settled in Tibet and married Tibetan women, who later converted to the religion of their husbands. Author Thomas Arnold, in his book, The Preaching of Islam says that gradually, marriages and social interactions led to an increase in the Tibetan Muslim population until a sizable community came up around Lhasa, Tibet's capital.