Tibet's spiritual leader came in response to a prominent California Imam's invitation to help form a "United Nations of Religion" devoted to countering extremist violence.
Imam Seyed Mehdi Khorasani said the idea came after he met Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso in the US state of Idaho late last year.
Khorasani wrote the Dalai Lama, urging him to meet with religious leaders and scholars to "construct a strategy that will unite our voices and express our common goal to live in a world without violence."
The Dalai Lama's response was "You lead and I will follow; and when we reach it, I will lead you," Khorasani told AFP.
Religious leaders and scholars from approximately 30 countries were brought to San Francisco, with the bulk of the funding provided by The Kirlin Foundation.
There were 100 panelists attending workshops in the Mark Hopkins Hotel atop Nob Hill on Friday to prepare for talks with the Dalai Lama there the next day.
"The Dalai Lama has the power to bring people to the table," said panelist Daisy Khan, director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement based in New York City.
"When someone like him takes on a cause, people hear it."
Muslims are wrongly stigmatized by the notoriety of violence committed by religious extremists, said Khan and others.
A recent Gallup poll indicated that 38 percent of Americans said they saw nothing to respect about practitioners of Islam, according to Hamza Yusuf of the Zaytuna Institute, which helped organize the event.
"Basing your view of Islam on Osama bin Laden is like basing your view of Christianity on David Koresh," Yusuf said, referring to a late US cult leader.
The summit is to be the first assembly of a "religious parliament" that will meet once or twice annually in countries throughout the world, according to Khorasani.
The intent is for religious leaders to unite in dispelling misunderstanding and injustice that breed extremism, Khorasani said.
"I found our world is not looking for why, they are looking for who," Khorasani said. "If you eliminate the why, the who will disappear."
San Francisco was picked for the gathering because it was where the United Nations was founded, Khorasani said.
Religious leaders and scholars came "from every corner of the world" for the meeting of minds, organizers said.
"I am as Buddhist as the Dalai Lama, as Christian as the Pope and as Jewish as Moses," Khorasani said, contending that people of faith shared a common bond
Uniting the Dalai Lama together with Muslim clerics will demonstrate that Islam is not at odds with peace, Yusuf said.
"Buddhism probably has the best press, because it is associated with non-violence, and Islam has the worst press because it is associated with violence," Yusuf said.
"By bringing them together we say we can co-exist in harmony, as history showed in Tibet and elsewhere."
Improving the public image of Islam would help dissipate the atmosphere that foments terrorism, Yusuf said.
"I'm not here to reach extremists like bin Laden," Yusuf said. "I don't think we will reach them with the Dalai Lama."
"I'm more interested in reaching people who have extreme ideas who aren't at a point where they are going to blow anything up."
There has been a lack of a unified voice by the "silent majority" of Muslims, and the Dalai Lama's attendance at the summit promised to take their concerns "to a higher level," Khan said.
"If you are not upset about the way the world is going, you are asleep or spiritually dead," Yusuf said. "People need to get on board and start showing solidarity."