The Wisdom of Tolerance is a dialogue between the late Abdurrahman Wahid (1940–2009), eminent Islamic leader and first democratically elected president of the Republic of Indonesia, and Daisaku Ikeda, Japanese Buddhist thinker and president of the SGI. The book chronicles a series of discussions that took place during the opening decade of the twenty-first century, beginning in 2002, the year following the 9/11 terror attack on the United States. It arises from the authors’ shared belief in the need to advance dialogue among religions and civilizations as an active form of resistance against the prevailing mood of fear, prejudice and isolationism that is characteristic of the times.
Samuel Huntington, in his book The Clash of Civilizations, wrote that whereas in the postwar era the greatest division facing the West was the Iron Curtain, now it is the difference between Western Christianity and Islam. In response to this, and as an advocate of a liberal, reforming Islam, Wahid asserts:
It is not a question of whether differences between civilizations create clashes; such clashes are not caused by differences in lifestyles but by political and economic interests. The problem arises when one civilization attempts to impose its values on another, which never succeeds. There is no necessity for civilizations to clash just because they are different. And if they do clash, it is usually a result of misunderstandings or prejudices rather than actual differences . . . . The important thing is to respect our mutual differences and accept the diversity and plurality of the existing reality.
Offering a definition of tolerance, Ikeda states:
True tolerance is one and the same with the refusal to accept any form of violence or injustice that threatens the worth and dignity of human life, and is exemplified by a life in which we do not ignore the plight of others but traverse upon the path to happiness together.
How are we to overcome the narrow-minded intolerance that underlies war and conflict? How can we broaden the bonds of our humanity that unites us? These and other questions are addressed through conversations that traverse the history of Buddhism and Islam and the pathways of cross-cultural and religious exchange through the centuries that led to the making of Indonesia and Japan. Their dialogue, which reads like an open conversation between longtime friends, is also a personal one, in which the discussants candidly share childhood memories, reflections on the people and artists that most impacted their growth, anecdotes from their respective marriages and family lives, and lessons learned from their decades-long careers in the service of human rights, women’s empowerment, education, democracy, and cultural and religious reform. In doing so, they set out to restore the spirit of tolerance as the path to peace in the twenty-first century.