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Delegates from the Madrid Interfaith Dialogue Conference.  (Photo: SPA)


Madrid Interfaith Dialogue Conference: Beginning of a Process



Editor's Note:

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, a little over a month since he convened a meeting in Mecca among Muslims to foster understanding in the Islamic communities, called together representatives of the major religions of the world gathered in Madrid this week with the purpose of advancing interfaith dialogue. The conference, organized by the Mecca-based Muslim World League, attracted over 200 delegates including Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs.

This SUSRIS Special Report provides an overview of the historic Madrid Conference and other news reporting on the conference and links to some the many materials on the SUSRIS web site that chronicled the steps leading to this meeting as well as related background information. The conference communiqué and King Abdullah's remarks will be provided separately. We recommend checking the SUSRIS Special Section on "Interfaith Dialogue" for more on these developments including articles, references and photos.



"My brothers, we must tell the world differences do not lead to conflict and confrontation.."

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
July 16, 2008


Dialogue is essential for peace
Badea Abu Al-Naja | Arab News 

Delegates from the Madrid Interfaith Dialogue Conference.  (Photo: SPA)MADRID: The three-day international interfaith conference, which concluded here yesterday, emphasized the need for promoting dialogue among religions and cultures in order to strengthen world peace and stability.

Nearly 300 delegates representing Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and other faiths from across the world attended the conference, which was opened by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah on Wednesday in the presence of Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

The participants reminded the world of the Declaration of the UN General Assembly in 1994, which called for tolerance and the spread of the culture of peace.

The final declaration issued by the conference rejected the notion of the so-called “clash of civilizations” and warned against the danger of campaigns seeking to deepen conflicts and destabilize peace and security.

The conference also called for an international agreement to combat terrorism.

“The conference has thoroughly reviewed the process of dialogue and its obstacles as well as the catastrophes that afflict humanity and noted that terrorism is one of the most serious obstacles confronting dialogue and coexistence,” the declaration said.

“Terrorism is a universal phenomenon that requires unified international efforts to combat it in a serious, responsible and just way... This demands an international agreement on defining terrorism, addressing its root causes and achieving justice and stability in the world.”

The declaration was read by Abdul Rahman Al-Zaid, deputy secretary-general of the Makkah-based Muslim World League (MWL), which organized the conference at the initiative of King Abdullah. 

“King Abdullah has a universal vision.. ..and believes that the followers of different faiths and cultures, who uphold common values, can play a big role in solving problems,” said Abdullah Al-Turki, secretary-general of the MWL, while addressing a press conference.

He said the conference had no political agenda. “It was organized with a humanitarian perspective and the invitees were religious leaders and other dignitaries who are concerned with dialogue and human relations.”

He said there was no problem among the various religions. “The problem is created by the behavior and practices of their followers,” he said.

Delegates were optimistic that the conference would open a new era in interfaith relations.

“It’s a major step,” said Jesse Jackson, the American civil rights leader. “For the king to use his moral authority to convene this session, to work for common ground — that’s a very big step.”

Tony Blair, special envoy of the Middle East Quartet, was equally encouraged. “The king has made a lot of reforms,” Blair said, referring to King Abdullah. “The fact that this conference is happening with the king, and with religious leaders of all different faiths, is significant.” For Rabbi Brad Hirschfield of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in New York, the conference was like a baby taking its first steps. “On the one hand, it’s the most ordinary moment,” he said. “And on the other, it’s the most important. But what matters is what the baby does next.”

“This will not be a one-off conference. I’m sure the commitment of the king to engage in dialogue will continue,” said Anthony Ball, an aide to the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

King Abdullah and a delegate at the Madrid Interfaith Dialogue Conference.  (Photo: SPA)Rabbi Marc Schneier, North American chairman of the World Jewish Congress, said King Abdullah was reaching out to other faiths to counter extremists and fanatics. “What I heard from him is that ‘I represent Islam, and I am the voice of moderation’,” he added.

The conference called for enhancing common human values and for their dissemination within societies. “It emphasized the need to promote a culture of tolerance and understanding through dialogue by holding conferences and developing relevant cultural, educational and media programs,” the declaration said.

The participants agreed “on international guidelines for dialogue among the followers of religions and cultures.” They said the deepening of moral values and ethical principles, which are common denominators among such followers, would help strengthen stability and achieve prosperity for all humans.

Governmental and nongovernmental organizations have been urged to issue a document stipulating respect for religions and their symbols, prohibition of their denigration and repudiation of those who commit such acts.

In order to fulfill the above-mentioned objectives, the participants agreed to form a working team to study the problems hindering dialogue. “The team will prepare a study that provides visions for the solution of these problems and coordinate with bodies that promote world dialogue,” the conference said.

The five-point methodology for the realization of the conference’s objectives included cooperation among religious, cultural, educational, and media organizations to consolidate ethical values, encourage noble social practices and confront sexual promiscuity, family disintegration and other vices.

It also decided to organize inter-religious and inter-cultural meetings, conduct research and use the Internet and other media for the dissemination of a culture of peace, understanding and coexistence.

The conference urged the UN General Assembly to support its recommendations and called for a special UN session on dialogue.

“The participants expressed hope that King Abdullah would use his good offices with the concerned bodies in convening this session as soon as possible,” the declaration said. The participants voiced their readiness to take part in such a UN session.

The conference adopted 10 principles that included unity of humankind and the equality of human beings irrespective of their colors, ethnic backgrounds and cultures; purity of the nature of humans as they were created liking good and disliking evil, inclining to justice and avoiding injustice; diversity of cultures and civilizations.

Other principles adopted included:

The heavenly messages aim at realizing the obedience of humankind to its Creator and achieving happiness, justice, security and peace;

Respecting heavenly religions, preserving their high status, condemning any insult to their symbols, and combating the exploitation of religion in the instigation of racial discrimination;

Observing peace, honoring agreements and respecting unique traditions of peoples and their right to security, freedom and self-determination as the basis for building good relations among all people.

The conference emphasized the significance of religion and moral values and the need for humans to revert to their Creator in their fight against crime, corruption, drugs, and terrorism, and in preserving the institution of the family and protecting societies from deviant behaviors.

“The family is the basic unit of society and its nucleus. Protecting it from disintegration is a cornerstone for any secure and stable society,” it said.

“Dialogue is one of the most important means for knowing each other,” the declaration said. “The preservation of the environment and its protection from pollution and other dangers are considered a major objective of all religions and cultures.”

Source: Arab News


Additional Reporting:

Editorial: Dialogue for understanding - Arab News
"..The groundbreaking three-day interfaith World Conference of Dialogue which closed yesterday in Madrid appears to have caught international imagination, perhaps in no small part because Saudi Arabia, a conservative state to some, was the prime mover behind the gathering. In his opening address Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah told the 300 attendees, mostly Muslim, Christian and Jewish clergy, that the world’s major religions had to turn their backs on extremism and embrace “constructive dialogue”.."  [more]

Madrid interfaith conference concludes with call for UN session on dialogue - saudiembassy.net
"..The World Conference on Dialogue concluded its deliberations in Madrid, Spain today. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz proposed the conference as part of his efforts to promote interfaith dialogue. In a final statement known as the Madrid Declaration, participants highlighted the importance of dialogue in achieving mutual understanding and cooperation among religions and cultures. They called on the United Nations to convene a special session on dialogue as a follow-up to the conference. Some 300 delegates from around the world – representing Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism and Confucianism – attended the three-day conference, which was organized by the Makkah-based Muslim World League (MWL).."  [more]

Saudi inter-faith conference urges global anti-terrorism pact - AFP
"..Islamic, Christian and Jewish leaders Friday called for an international agreement to combat terrorism, at the end of a landmark Saudi-organised conference. The representatives of the world's great monotheistic religions also appealed for a special session of the UN General Assembly to promote dialogue and prevent "a clash of civilizations.".."  [more]

Saudi Host Renounces Extremism At Spain Summit - NPR (Audio)
"..Religious leaders are meeting in Spain for an interfaith summit sponsored by Saudi Arabia. Critics say the meeting is only meant to make the Arab country look good in the West. Only one Israeli was invited, and no Palestinians were on the list. Still, the Saudi king opened the summit with a surprising message.."  [more]

Saudi conference urges global anti-terror pact - DailyTimes
"..Terrorism is an international issue and there should be a global agreement to address the root causes, said the document issued by the World Inter-faith Conference on Dialogue that ended here on Friday. “Terrorism is a universal phenomenon that requires international efforts to combat it in a serious, responsible and just way,” said the document called the Madrid Declaration.."  [more]

Religious leaders end Saudi-sponsored interfaith conference calling for U.N. to play role - IHT
"..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. In a final declaration, participants urged the United Nations to play a role, saying they hope to follow up "recommendations in enhancing dialogue among the followers of religions, civilizations and cultures through conducting a special U.N. session on dialogue.".."  [more]

Interfaith meet signals thaw in Saudi hostility toward Israel - Haaretz
"..In an apparent easing of traditional Saudi hostility toward Israel, King Abdullah has urged followers of all the world's leading religions to embrace reconciliation. "We must tell the world that differences don't need to lead to disputes," he said at the opening of an interfaith conference in Madrid, addressing Muslim and Christian delegates and even one Israeli envoy who also shook his hand. Rabbi David Rosen, who is also the Chief Rabbinate's adviser on interfaith dialogue, had been invited to the conference as Chairman of IJCIC, the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations. The conference organizers knew he was Israeli, following media reports to that effect last week. He met King Abdullah, told him he was a rabbi from Jerusalem and even received his blessing.."  [more]

Theologians call for gender equality at Saudi inter-faith conference - AFP
"..Women have historically suffered discrimination in the name of religion, and the world's great faiths must do more to encourage gender equality, theologians told a seminar at a Saudi-organised conference Thursday. "Women have been forgotten and marginalised in religions," Juan Jose Tamayo, director of theology at Madrid's Juan Carlos III university, told a roundtable on the second day of the World Conference of Dialogue in Madrid, aimed at bringing the great monotheistic faiths closer together. "They are organised hierarchically and patriarchically, excluding women in all fields of knowledge and religious matters. Now, at the start of the 21st century, all men, but especially clerics "must restore the dignity of women.".."  [more]

Saudi king cites Islam's tolerance - JTA
"..The king of Saudi Arabia opened an interfaith conference by calling Islam a religion of tolerance and moderation. King Abdullah organized the conference, which runs Wednesday to Friday, in Madrid. A number of Jewish leaders, mostly from the United States and England, were among the nearly 300 religious figures in attendance.."   [more]

Saudis host a global interfaith conference in Madrid: a 'first step'
"..More than 500 years after Spain's golden age of tolerance among Jews, Christians, and Muslims came to a definitive end, leaders of those faiths – as well as of Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism – are meeting at a royal palace on Madrid's outskirts in a bid to boost interreligious understanding. In his opening remarks Wednesday at the three-day conference, host Saudi King Abdullah reminded his audience – nearly 300 religious, political, and cultural leaders from 50 different countries – of their shared purpose. "If we want this historic encounter to succeed, we must look to the things that unite us: our profound faith in God, the noble principles and elevated ethics that represent the foundation of religions," he said. He linked societal woes like terrorism, racism, crime, drug abuse, and the breakdown of the family to losing touch with religion: "All this is the consequence of the spiritual void that people suffer once they distance themselves from God.".."   [more]

Saudi king shuns extremism as faiths gather - Reuters
"..Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah called on followers of the world's major faiths to turn away from extremism and seek reconciliation as he opened an unprecedented interfaith conference in Madrid on Wednesday. The Saudi-sponsored gathering aims to draw Muslims, Jews and Christians closer together and isolate those who use religion to justify violence or intolerance. It was the first time Saudi Arabia, where non-Muslims cannot practice their faith openly, had invited Jews to such a meeting.."  [more]

Saudi-backed interfaith meeting starts - AP
"..King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was kicking off an interfaith conference in Madrid on Wednesday — an effort to bring Muslims, Christians and Jews closer together amid a world that often puts the three faiths at odds. Spanish King Juan Carlos was also addressing the gathering — which the Saudis have billed as a strictly religious affair. There's to be no mention of hot-button issues like the war in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iranian nuclear ambitions or rising oil prices. Abdullah has made reaching out to other faiths a hallmark of his rule since taking over the oil-rich kingdom following the death of his half brother in 2005. He met with Pope Benedict XVI late last year, the first meeting ever between a pope and a reigning Saudi king. And in June, Abdullah held a religious conference in Mecca in which participants pledged improved relations between Islam's two main branches — Sunni and Shia. At that meeting Abdullah also rejected extremism, saying that Muslims must present Islam's "good message" to the world.."  [more]

Skepticism precedes Saudi-led interfaith meeting - AP
"..A Saudi-sponsored conference that will bring together Israeli and American rabbis with clerics from the strict Wahhabi sect of Islam — as well as global religious leaders of nearly every persuasion — is either a rare opportunity for dialogue or a cynical publicity stunt. It all depends on whom you ask. And like any confab that includes Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and representatives of several other religions — there is no shortage of opinion.."  [more]

Saudi king to open inter-faith conference in Madrid - AFP
Saudi King Abdullah opens an international conference in Madrid on Wednesday aimed at allowing representatives of the world's great religions "to get to know each other," the organisers said. The conference is organised by the Muslim World League from an initiative by King Abdullah, whose country hosts Islam's two holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina. The king "has been calling for this type of dialogue between religions for the past three years,".."  [more]

Saudi Government Curbs Religious Police - NPR (Audio)
"..Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry has ordered the controversial religious police in the conservative Wahhabi kingdom to stop detaining or interrogating citizens suspected of violating Islamic law. The decree comes as members of the force face charges stemming from the deaths of two men while in custody. Human rights advocates hope the changes mean the government is serious about reining in the religious police.."  [more]


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