The spread of Buddhism in Asia and the spread of Islam in Africa and Asia are similar because they are both made possible by trade networks. The Silk Roads, which stretched from China in the East to Constantinople in the West, connected early modern and medieval cities together, encouraging trade...
The spread of Buddhism in Asia and the spread of Islam in Africa and Asia are similar because they are both made possible by trade networks. The Silk Roads, which stretched from China in the East to Constantinople in the West, connected early modern and medieval cities together, encouraging trade between merchants and other actors. As a result of trade, cultural diffusion occurred, where merchants and people in different civilizations spread their culture and religions peacefully from one city to the next. Buddhism, which began in Northeast India, successfully spread to East and Southeast Asia as a result of Silk Roads trade, as well as missionaries who brought the religion into China. As a result, there was a surge of Buddhism in Tang Dynasty China. Islam, which began in Mecca, was spread by Muslim merchants and nomadic trading groups like the Berbers, spreading the religion peacefully throughout the Silk Roads as well as the Trans-Sahara trade network in Northern Africa.
Another similarity between the spread of Buddhism in Asia and the spread of Islam in Asia and Africa are that both religions had missionaries who helped spread culture. For Buddhists, missionaries would purposefully bring sacred artifacts throughout the East, encouraging people to convert. For example, in an excerpt from Confucian scholar Han Yu, of the Tang Dynasty, wrote in his “Memorial on Buddhism,” in 817 C.E.:
Now, I hear that Your majesty has ordered the community of monks to go to greet the finger bone of the Buddha [a relic brought to China from India], and Your Majesty will ascend a tower to watch the procession as this relic is brought into the palace. If these practices are not stopped, and this relic of the Buddha is allowed to be carried from one temple to another, there will be those in the crowd who will cut off their arms and mutilate their flesh in offering to the Buddha.
Despite the obvious bias that Han Yu has against Buddhism, as a Confucian who does not want to see cultural change, this source gives us evidence that Buddhist missionaries were bringing relics throughout Asia in an attempt to convert people; Han Yu was trying to scare the Emperor into thinking that people would "mutilate their flesh" in order to see this relic and convert. Islam had missionaries as well called Sufi Mystics who traveled throughout India and Southeast Asia preaching Islam. Sufi mystics also combined local practices and mysticism with Islam, almost as a stepping stone from local cultures towards Islamic culture.
One difference between the spread of Buddhism and the spread of Islam is how far they spread. Buddhism was spread to the East, but was not as successful spreading to the West. Islam, however, managed to radiate outwards in all directions, converting the rest of the Arabian Peninsula, West to Spain, north to portions of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and East as far as modern-day Indonesia. Islam was more successful at spreading because it was a universalizing religion that preached tolerance and equality; regardless of your social class and job, you were equal in the eyes of God (Allah). This was especially convincing to lower-caste Hindus who were not allowed social mobility and were not granted the same quality of life as higher-caste Hindus. Buddhism, which also eschewed the caste system, was less universalizing and more about an individual's path to enlightenment.