Saudi king prepares ground for interfaith meeting
Jordan Times Sunday, June 8th, 2008


RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has won backing from Muslim
clerics from around the world for an interfaith dialogue with Christians and
Jews, state media reported on Saturday.

Some 500 religious scholars and academics gathered for a 3-day conference in
Mecca which ended on Friday as the first step of a plan announced by the
Saudi king this year to create a dialogue with other faiths.

The king’s call, which followed a meeting with Pope Benedict at the Vatican
last year, sparked much interest from Jewish and Christian groups around the
The Mecca meeting recommended “conferences, forums and discussion groups
between the followers of the prophetic messages, and relevant civilisations,
cultures and philosophies to which academics, media and religious leaders
will be invited”, according to the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

It said the participants, who included Egypt’s Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar
Mohammad Sayed Tantawi and former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi
Rafsanjani, established that a dialogue with other faiths was legitimate in

SPA gave no more details, but a gathering of Jewish and Christian clerics in
Saudi Arabia would be ground-breaking.

Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, sees itself as the leader of
Sunni Islam. It promotes a hardline school of Islam called Wahhabism which
has traditionally seen some other Muslims and non-Muslims as “infidels”.

But Riyadh has been making efforts to build better ties with Washington and
improve its international image after the September 11 attacks of 2001, in
which 15 of the 19 attackers were Saudi.

Saudi Islamist militants also launched a violent campaign to overthrow the
monarchy in 2003, denouncing the rulers as un-Islamic.

Although the official religious establishment is on board for the king’s
interfaith effort, many Wahhabi clerics remain opposed even to talking to
Shiite Muslims.

A group of independent clerics issued a statement last week saying Shiites,
including Lebanese group Hizbollah, were posturing against Israel to hide an
anti-Sunni agenda.

Some Shiites said that, despite the presence of Iran’s Rafsanjani, few of
their number were invited to the Mecca meeting. None came from Europe or
North America and one from Saudi Arabia’s own Shiite minority, which
complains that it is given second class status.

The final statement said the conference called for “communication between
Islamic sects in an effort to unite the Islamic nation and lighten the
effects of fanaticism”.

IMRA – Independent Media Review and Analysis


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