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Hopeful and Skeptical Religious “Inter-faith Dialogue” Gets Poor Coverage

July 21, 2008

A leap of faith for Saudi king

By Sreeram Chaulia –  On July 16, a unique conclave of Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs was inaugurated in Madrid by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Its aim is to bridge widening religious    chasms that breed violence. The agenda was relevant since religion has become one of the main sources of conflicts of late.

The Madrid meeting was meant to reify “inter-faith dialogue”, the nostrum of our times for festering religious prejudices. King Abdullah termed the event “historical” and, indeed, it had a few firsts to its credit. The fact that Jewish thinkers were invited by a

Interfaith meet will serve cause of peace: Kingdom JEDDAH: The Council of Ministers yesterday underscored the tremendous global response to last week’s interfaith conference in Madrid and said it was an affirmation of the world’s desire to uphold common human values for the promotion of peace and stability.  The Cabinet meeting praised the Madrid Declaration and hoped its objectives would serve all humanity and contribute to peaceful coexistence.

RELIGION: UN Invited to Create Interfaith Council

MADRID, Jul 21 (IPS) – The participants at the World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid have proposed that the United Nations create an interreligious council.

The Jul. 16-18 conference, which was attended by 250 people representing Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and other faiths, was opened on Jul. 16 by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and King Juan Carlos of Spain.

“Social dialogue should be not only interreligious but intra-religious as well, to achieve peaceful coexistence in the world,” Federico Mayor Zaragoza, head of the Foundation for a Culture of Peace and chair of the Board of Directors of the international news agency IPS (Inter Press Service) said in his speech to the conference.

A working team to seek peace and international concord was established, and it was agreed to foment cooperation between religious, cultural, educational and media organisations “to confront sexual promiscuity, family disintegration and other vices.”

It was also agreed to organise conferences, symposia, research and information programmes “to disseminate a culture of peace, understanding and coexistence,” and to promote dialogue among followers of all religions.

Religious leaders end Saudi-sponsored interfaith conference calling for U.N. to play role

MADRID, Spain: Representatives of the world’s religions on Friday ended a three-day interfaith conference called by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia which some hope could hail the beginning of a new relationship by denominations.

The Madrid meeting brought together Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and representatives of other religions in what was seen as an unprecedented event for the Saudi monarchy.

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Gamble – And Success

The Saudi monarch took a gamble last week while in Spain and it paid off handsomely. The king’s investment in the three-day interfaith dialogue conference which brought together representatives of the three monolithic faiths – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – and included a number of Asian religions, as well, was two-fold.

First was the financial aspect of the operation; flying some 200 delegates and about 100 members of the media from around the world to Madrid. In the greater scope of things, this represents a mere drop of oil in the barrel – now being sold at over $136.

The second investment on the part of the Saudi king was on a more personal level: the king, for the first time, openly met with representatives of the Jewish faith, including an Israeli, although he was registered as a U.S. citizen, given he holds dual citizenship.

This is the real investment King Abdulla is making. Putting his reputation on the line, overtly calling for dialogue with the “Kafirs” – Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims – at a time when he recently faced a campaign of terror conducted by al-Qaida in his own country that largely caught Saudi security forces off guard.

Saudi king bringing rabbis, clerics together – Abdullah’s latest interfaith effort has believers and skeptics

“The conference provides a rare opportunity for strengthening mutual respect between the followers of the three main religions,” Monsignor Nabil Haddad, head of the Melkite Catholic community in Jordan and a  participant at the conference, told The Associated Press.

Appropriate host?
Still, detractors say the Saudis are the last people who should be hosting a conference on religious tolerance.

Wahhabism — the strain of Sunni Islam that is practiced in Saudi Arabia — is considered one of the religion’s most conservative and Saudi Arabia has sometimes strained ties with Islam’s other major branch, Shiism. Only one delegate from predominantly Shiite Iran was invited, and it was not clear whether he would attend.

Observers say the conference is being held in Spain in part because it would be politically unpalatable for Abdullah — the titular guardian of Islam’s two holiest sites — to allow Jewish and Christian leaders into the kingdom itself, a difficult starting point for religious harmony.

One of the conference’s biggest names is David Rosen, a prominent Israeli rabbi. The inclusion of an Israeli in a Saudi-sponsored gathering is big news, but Rosen is not listed as being from the Jewish state in the conference literature. He has dual citizenship, and is described as an American.

“Practically speaking, he is being invited as a foreigner and not as an Israeli,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel told AP in dismissing the conference. “If they really wanted to make this significant, they should have invited real Israeli rabbis.”

A groundbreaking Saudi-sponsored interfaith dialogue on Friday, July 18, called for criminalizing blasphemy and for drafting an international agreement to combat terrorism.

This is a phenominal gesture.  Skeptics can pick it apart, but hopefuls can rejoice about the coming together of so many different faiths.  There was, however several restricting criteria.  Monotheism was required.  The only thing that concerned me was the decision to ban blasphemy … that appears reasonable, but, who defines the term and how is it enforced … There will always be worrisome details following such an event.  But first steps are always tenuous.  Encouragement is needed to follow up in this dialog.  Although King Abdullah has no plans to host a follow up conference, another leader can pick up the torch and host the next one.  Hope is the seed to be nurtured for such a uniting gesture.

  1. July 21, 2008 11:14 pm

    A good reading indeed there of inter-religious meet there, especially in the backdrop of violence, vengeance, bloodshed of the worst kind that’s happening under the very support and in the very name of these religions to the extreme extent of prompting the humanity to tell, ‘enough of religions, leave us alone’.


  2. Anonymous permalink
    July 21, 2008 11:11 pm

    A good reading indeed there of inter-religious meet there, especially in the backdrop of violence, vengeance, bloodshed of the worst kind that’s happening under the very support and in the very name of these religions to the extreme extent of prompting the humanity to tell, ‘enough of religions, leave us alone’.

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