Saudi king calls for ‘new page’ in inter-faith dialogue

July 17th, 2008 - 1:39 am ICT by IANS  

Madrid, July 17 (DPA) Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah called for a “new page for humanity” in inter-religious understanding Wednesday, saying it could help the world recover lost values and emerge from confusion. Islam was a religion of moderation and tolerance, the monarch said in inaugurating the World Conference on Dialogue, a major inter-faith event sponsored by Saudi Arabia in the Spanish capital.

Earlier initiatives had failed because they sought to merge religions, an attempt doomed to failure, because all religions were convinced of their own beliefs despite God being the same for all, King Abdullah said.

Human tragedies were not caused by religions, but by extremism, the monarch explained.

Spain’s King Juan Carlos said inter-faith dialogue could help solve problems including terrorism, hunger, disease and poverty.

Muslim World League Secretary-General Abdullah al-Turki called on delegates attending the three-day conference in Madrid to produce concrete projects with follow-up plans.

Around 200 Muslim, Christian and Jewish clergy and other experts on inter-religious dialogue were expected at the meeting instigated by Saudi Arabia in what was seen as a ground-breaking move for the conservative Muslim kingdom.

Experts and intellectuals, including Lebanese Culture Minister Tariq Mitri and Vatican inter-faith specialist Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, were to analyze issues such as the civilization foundations of inter-faith dialogue, ways to promote it, and common human values.

The conference, which also includes representatives of Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism, is taking place against the backdrop of the Middle East conflict and controversy over caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, but it was expected to shun political questions.

The sessions are closed to the media, with a final communique expected Friday.

Organised by the World Muslim League, the conference was partly inspired by King Abdullah’s unprecedented meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican in November 2007, and by the International Islamic Conference for Dialogue in Mecca last June.

Detractors slammed the Madrid conference as a public relations operation by Saudi Arabia after the attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States, which were carried by mainly by Saudis inspired by Saudi-born Osama bin Laden.

It was ironic for a meeting on religious tolerance to be sponsored by Saudi Arabia, where people other than Sunni Muslims had few rights, critics said. There were few Shia Muslim participants, and none of the Jewish participants were listed as Israelis, they added.

Others praised the initiative, with the World Jewish Congress describing it as a “significant and timely development”.

The organisers were believed to have chosen Spain as the host country, because domestic opposition would have made it difficult to stage the conference in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Turki said Spain had been chosen because of the religious tolerance that characterized it when it was partly under Moorish rule for eight centuries until 1492.

Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in a relative harmony in Moorish Spain, known as al-Andalus. “The image of al-Andalus made us hold this conference in Spain,” al-Turki told the daily El Mundo.

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