The U.S.-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum in Chicago, organized by the Committee for International Trade (CIT) of the Saudi Council of Chambers of Commerce and the U.S.-Saudi Business Council, brought together about 1,100 participants including a delegation of over 200 Saudi Arabians. The two-day conference highlighted Saudi Arabia’s growing global financial and economic influence and its rapidly expanding economy. It was a chance to discuss enhanced cooperation between the historic partners and for American business people to work with their Saudi counterparts to identify commercial and investment opportunities. It was that and more. On top of the advancement of the business relationship between the United States and the Kingdom many members of the Saudi delegation participated in week-long outreach programs in the Chicago area. In addition to educational, technological and cultural exchanges a great deal of effort was devoted to dialogue to expand the bridges connecting the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. One such visit was an interfaith breakfast dialogue that included Ms. Samar Fatany, a member of the Saudi delegation. We are pleased to share her story about that experience with you today. It originally appeared in Arab News on May 10, 2010.
Coalition preaches mutual respect
The interfaith dialogue initiated by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to build bridges of understanding between Islam and the West has been well received by religious leaders worldwide. This was evident at the community outreach program that was organized by the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry’s Committee of International Trade (CIT) on the sidelines of the US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum April 28-29 in Chicago.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s vision of interfaith harmony as expounded in the historic June 2009 address to the Muslim world from Cairo is now beginning to unfold, and I could notice the positive developments that are taking place in the United States.
Five members of the delegation accompanying Commerce and Industry Minister Abdullah Zainal Alireza to the “Windy City” participated in the Interfaith Breakfast Dialogue, which took place at the University of Chicago’s Gleacher Center. They got the opportunity to discover the efforts of religious leaders dedicated to building a peaceful coexistence between the Abrahamic faiths in the Chicago community.
In a moderated panel discussion, five religious leaders of different faiths addressed the backlash after 9/11 and stressed the need for interfaith programs to dispel misunderstanding and media misconceptions that spread hatred and false information about different faiths. The panel included an imam, a reverend, a rabbi and other religious leaders who outlined their missions toward finding common grounds and building trust and respect among all religions.
They also shared their experiences and activities involving the Chicago community in interfaith dialogue and interfaith learning. One of the most interesting institutions represented was The Chicago Coalition for Inter-Religious Learning, a group of Catholics, Jews and Muslims working together with an approach based on a spirit of respectful inquiry, neither attempting to “convert” nor claiming that there is no difference between the three Abrahamic religions.
Indeed, this new approach of accepting and respecting the differences between Muslims, Christians and Jews could put an end to hostilities and eliminate the tension and conflict that mars relations between the Muslim world and the West. The coalition includes educators, writers and book publishers who came together after 9/11 to confront teachings of hatred, contempt and damaging stereotypes that can be found in religious school classrooms.
It is truly heartening to know that there are efforts to stop the spread of Islamophobia and the discrimination against people of different faiths. The religious leaders of Chicago are engaged in organizing interactive workshops and giving presentations to religious school educators and administrators to stimulate inter-religious thinking and to create better teaching models. Moreover, they are developing a more accurate multimedia resource guide, and they are supporting student participation in trilateral dialogue activities and other interfaith learning projects.
Among their main activities is monitoring publications, films and other classroom resources for coalition members to review or endorse. They plan to put the bibliographical information and reviews on their website as a resource guide and a reliable database. In addition, the group emphasizes the need for sensitive, interfaith children’s books and plans a series of teachers’ guides for interfaith education.
Through interfaith learning, the coalition strives to enable all to understand the different religious beliefs and at the same time allow all to remain true to the core of their own religious traditions. These noble initiatives should be implemented on a global scale, and they should be publicized in order to promote friendly relations and goodwill between the United States and the Muslim world.
The Q&A session that followed the presentations of the panelists was another opportunity for the members of the Saudi delegation to share their concerns and outline King Abdullah’s interfaith dialogue initiative, which is based on mutual respect and peaceful coexistence. The Saudis stressed that religious leaders should not follow the paths of their predecessors who fought many wars over religion. Today, the global community should be more concerned with eradicating poverty and disease, protecting the environment, ending wars and eliminating the injustices and human suffering that still exist in many parts of the world.
The men and women of the Saudi delegation at the end of the visit said they appreciated the initiatives of this noble coalition and felt comfortable over the fact that there are partners in America who are now genuine in their efforts to build bridges of understanding and eager to put an end to the demonization of Islam and Muslims in the United States.
The mission of Commerce and Industry Minister Abdullah Zainal Alireza, who led a delegation of finance and petroleum ministers and 200 business leaders, academics and media personalities to build stronger relations and friendly ties with the US, certainly has been a great success. It has opened a new page in Saudi-American relations, and it has paved the way to end the misconceptions that have created the tensions between the two countries.
Saudi Arabia today is witnessing a new era of reforms, combating terrorism and fighting extremism. It is reaching out to the whole world to implement trade relations and promote global prosperity. Let us hope that peaceful partners and allies — as well as religious leaders — will continue to hold on to a spirit of good will and mutual respect in order to regain the peace of the world and a better future for our younger generation.
— Samar Fatany is a Saudi radio journalist. She can be contacted at email: email@example.com
Originally published in Arab News on May 10, 2010.