The Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, has warned against portraying Islam as a religion of violence, saying Muslims have been wrongly demonised in the West since the September 11 attacks.
Promoting religious tolerance, the world's most influential Buddhist leader said on Sunday that talk of "a clash of civilisations between the West and Muslim world is wrong and dangerous."
Muslim terrorist attacks have distorted people's views of Islam, making them believe it is an extremist faith rather than one based on compassion, the Dalai Lama told a press conference in New Delhi.
Muslims are being unfairly stigmatised as a result of violence by "some mischievous people," said the Dalai Lama, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his work to bring democracy and freedom to his people.
All religions have extremists and "it is wrong to generalise (about Muslims)," the 71-year-old spiritual leader said.
"They (terrorists) cannot represent the whole system," he said.
The Dalai Lama, who has lived in Dharamsala since fleeing Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, said he had cast himself in the role of defender of Islam because he wanted to reshape people's views of the religion.
Asked about the uproar last month when Pope Benedict XVI quoted a 14th-century Christian emperor to portray Islam as a religion tainted by violence, the Dalai Lama said "if you return to past history there are a lot of complications."
"It is better to forget ... and to deal with today's reality," he said.
"Past history is (full of) uncivilised events," he said.
Benedict had quoted statements by Emperor Manuel II -- ruling from what is now Istanbul -- that everything the Prophet Mohammed had brought was evil and that he spread Islam by violence.
The pontiff later apologised for the comments which triggered angry reactions around the world from Muslims who said the pope's statements harked back to the medieval Christian crusades against Islam.
The Dalai Lama noted the "conflict and divisions caused in the name of religion," referring to violence in such places as Ireland, Pakistan and Iraq.
But despite that "religion has great potential to help humanity on the basis of mutual respect," he said.