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Compare the spread of Buddhism in Asia to Islam's spread in Africa and Asia.

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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.

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Islam and Buddhism both successfully spread from their respective homelands of Saudi Arabia and India to become global religions. However, differences in their core theological orientations meant that the two religions spread in very different ways. Islam adopted a mandate to become a universal religion and was also based upon the principle that the Quran, revealed to Mohammad, was infallible scripture. Therefore, military conquest and subjugation of "idolatrous" people were justified in certain times and places as means of extending Islam's reach.

Buddhism, on the other hand, had no dogma or required theological core and did not depend on a claim of divine revelation to the religion's founder, the Buddha. Buddhism was based primarily on the belief that its techniques could help individuals avoid suffering and live better, ethical lives. Therefore, there was no imperative to conquer or convert non-Buddhist nations, because Buddhists did not believe they had access to a universal truth. Also, this allowed Buddhism to coexist with other theological and cultural traditions, so that individuals were not forced to choose between Buddhism and their native religions. In many nations, individuals came to practice Buddhism alongside their traditional religions.

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Buddhism spread from India by peaceful means. Buddhist monks traveled to other lands, but in spreading their religion, they allowed people to retain some of their older beliefs in a process called syncretism. Instead of being forced to convert, people turned to Buddhism to relieve some of their own suffering and to find meaning in their lives. The religion was spread into Asia in part by trade along the Silk Road. Slowly, populations along the trade route adopted elements of Buddhism that they applied to their lives. 

Often, Buddhism was adopted and spread by monarchs. For example, King Ashoka, an Indian emperor during the Maurya Empire who ruled from approximately 268 to 232 BCE, converted to Buddhism after fighting a deadly war with the state of Kalinga. He converted to follow a path of non-violence, and he began to spread Buddhist ideas throughout Asia. Buddhism was also a means of building political ties between different parts of the empire. Later rulers such as the Mongol emperor Altan Khan in the 16th century established Buddhism as the state religion as a way to consolidate power in their empires, but he often resorted to non-Buddhist techniques in his attempt to unify his empire.

Unlike Buddhism, Islam spread in part through military conquest. After Mohammed's death in 632 CE, Muslim armies carried out attacks on the Byzantine and other surrounding empires. Muslims generally left the social organization of the people they conquered in place, and, like Buddhists, allowed the population to convert gradually to their religion. People converted in part to be free from paying a tax, and they, like converts to Buddhism, were allowed to practice in syncretistic way that combined elements of their new and old cultures and faiths. Conversion allowed formerly unorganized pastoral people in Africa, Asia, and other areas to be part of an organized empire. Like Buddhism, Islam began to be spread through trade into the Sahara, up the Nile River, and across the Red Sea. 

Like Buddhism, Islam was spread through the conversion of monarchs such as Mansa Musa, the ruler of the Mali Empire (1280-1337 CE). He made a pilgrimage to Mecca and sought to spread Islam through his empire by constructing mosques and madrasas, or schools. His schools became centers of learning in the Muslim world and helped spread the religion of Islam. 

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The spread of Buddhism and the spread of Islam have in common the fact that both were spread to some degree by trade and to some degree by conquest.  The major difference between the two is that Buddhism relied much more on trade and Islam relied (particularly at first) on conquest.

The main initial spread of Islam was accomplished by conquest.  It was in this way that Islam spread out of Arabia, through the Middle East, and into North Africa.  After gaining its major bases through conquest, it spread via trade to other parts of Africa and to places like Indonesia.

By contrast, Buddhism was spread much more by trade.  The faith was spread to some extent by conquests like those of Asoka and the Mauryan Empire.  However, much more of the spread of Buddhism was due to people being exposed to the ideas of Buddhism through trade routes.

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