Business Forum: Outreach Provides Interfaith Dialogue Opportunities

Published: January 22, 2012

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[Originally published on SUSRISblog.com]

The first US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum in Chicago in April 2010 included a number of outreach activities for some of the 200-plus delegation of Saudi business people, officials and media personalities. Among the events was an interfaith dialogue breakfast at the University of Chicago, featuring a panel of religious leaders of different faiths who explored ways to find common ground and to build trust and respect. Jeddah radio journalist Samar Fatany was a member of the group and filed a report on the dialogue session noting it was a good example of the dialogue launched by King Abdullah. That effort [well documented in SUSRIS – links below] included multi-faith meetings and panels up through a special session at the United Nations and the establishment of the Vienna-based “King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue.”  Concerning the Chicago outreach Fatany wrote:

“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.”

Fatany was again a member at the recently concluded US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum in Atlanta and again participated in the community outreach portions of the Forum including an interfaith dialogue session. She reported on that bridge-building experience in Atlanta in an article for Arab News today.

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Interfaith dialogue presents opportunities
Samar Fatany

Let us establish business partnerships and support joint projects between faith-based organizations

Exploring what the Abrahamic faiths have in common was the theme of an interfaith dialogue held in Atlanta’s All Saints Episcopal Church on the sidelines of the recent US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum. The Saudi Committee of International Trade (CIT) and the Saudi-US Trade Group organized the event.

The discussion was moderated by Nick Stuart, president of Odyssey Networks, America’s largest interfaith media organization. The American panelists were prominent religious leaders in Atlanta; the southeast regional director of Anti-Defamation League, president of the Concerned Black Clergy, president of the Alliance for Christian Media, and dean of the Chapel and Religious Life at Emory University. Saudi participants included senior members of the CIT.

The dialogue focused on two major global concerns of this century — poverty and the environment. The discussion was very informative, and the participants exchanged their valuable experiences in dealing with these two realities that are threatening our world. They debated the theological aspects of the three religions and shared the actual spiritual practices in their daily lives that reinforce the commonalities of Abrahamic beliefs.

The dialogue ended with five recommendations for future interfaith projects: The need to build trust, address issues with open transparency, acquire knowledge and understanding of the other faiths, and to come up with joint projects that can serve their communities and tackle common issues of major concern.

Meanwhile, the outreach program succeeded in connecting the Saudi business leaders with the Odyssey Media Networks, which supplies videos of interfaith news stories to CNN, Huffington Post and a number of websites run by hosts such as AOL. It has its own website and mobile app, Call on Faith (available at i-Phone and BlackBerry app stores), which carries 18 short-form video channels. One of the main contributions is providing weekly links to churches to help preachers prepare for their weekly sermons, linking faith to the weekly events that are uppermost in the lives of the faithful, such as news about the economy, the environment, poverty and how we treat each other.

One of the objectives of Odyssey Networks is to launch a similar service for Muslims in America to aid preaching and study in the mosques and linking the insights from the Qur’an and the Hadith to topical news stories. Muslim organizations need to reach out and connect with such sincere interfaith efforts to foster better understanding between Muslims and other faiths.

Indeed the Saudis could learn a lot from their experience and adapt some of their programs to promote the role of the mosque and make it more effective by providing realistic guidance for the faithful.

Muslim organizations certainly could learn from such experiences in order to provide proper interpretations of the Qur’an and follow the authenticated Sunnah that relates more to the realities of our time in order to address the challenges of the 21st century.

There are many other ways in which we can benefit from establishing links with more-experienced interfaith organizations. One of them is encouraging Muslims to reach out and interact with other faiths and engage in dialogue to correct distorted information that has harmed Muslims and has given Islam a bad name. Odyssey is trying to grow its Muslim membership, and they are interested in appointing a Muslim board member who could contribute by providing firsthand information about the true principles of Islam and give a Muslim perspective on current issues of global concern. Other initiatives could include an internship or sponsored Muslim video journalist who would join the production staff for a few months to interact with other professionals and learn from their experience to cover stories from the Muslim world that would provide a more accurate picture of Muslim culture and way of life.

Talented Muslims in this field could introduce Muslim insights to the production team, whether it be new media, Web expertise, graphic design or video journalists and editors.

We need to support such initiatives to build trust and eliminate the elements of fear and suspicion that have divided Abrahamic faiths. Let us establish business partnerships and support joint projects between faith-based organizations to address global challenges like poverty or the environment and other pressing issues that threaten humanity.

Muslim organizations in Saudi Arabia that support Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s initiative of interfaith dialogue need to seek interfaith initiatives emerging out of the US like the Odyssey Networks and find ways to link up to highlight Muslim contributions to provide a positive perspective that promotes peace and harmony.

The outreach program initiated by the CIT to promote an interfaith dialogue with Saudi Arabia could be the beginning of a strong partnership to foster better relations with the West and a chance to find common ground between the Abrahamic faiths. Investment in such initiatives would contribute to global peace and prosperity.

— Samar Fatany is a Saudi radio journalist. She can be reached at samarfatany@hotmail.com.

Source: Arab News – Jan 22, 2012

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