The Saudi King's vision for interfaith dialogue
This week's special gathering at the UN can help unite us in the fight against extremism.
By Abdul Rahman H. Al-Saeed
from the November 13, 2008 edition
The ground is thus more fertile for extremism and violence than it has ever been. And in this, we are together. We can no more speak of "us" versus "them." From Marshall McLuhan's global village to Thomas L. Friedman's flat world, we are told that we have finally arrived at the point of sharing pain and joy. Unfortunately, we seem to be sharing more pain than joy these days.
But that is not the whole story. Luckily, many wise leaders (and the world surely needs more of them) sense the dangers this drift poses to our common future. They recognize the nexus between globalization and mutual intolerance. One such leader is trying to do something about the impasse.
The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques – King Abdullah of
The king reiterated that message in words and deed,
ultimately leading in June 2008 to a historic meeting of Islamic scholars that
called for more robust dialogue with the outside world, shortly thereafter
followed by a gathering in
In a cogent and moving speech that decried religious extremism and called for renewed efforts at serious dialogue, he stated: "Mankind is suffering today from a loss of values and conceptual confusion, and is passing through a critical phase which, in spite of all the scientific progress, is witnessing a proliferation of crime, an increase in terrorism, the disintegration of the family, subversion of the minds of the young by drug abuse, exploitation of the poor by the strong, and odious racist tendencies. There is no solution for us other than to agree on a united approach, through dialogue among religions and civilizations."
King Abdullah's initiative at
It aspires to open a sincere, respectful, and frank interfaith and intercultural dialogue. The King's hope is that this gathering can begin to lay (or renew and repair) the foundation for the values needed to render globalization beneficial to all mankind.
There is no reason to despair that it cannot.
History, Islamic history in particular, informs us that
interaction based on mutual tolerance between the followers of the three main
religions can galvanize major advances in human culture and knowledge. This is
what occurred in the Omayyad and Abbasi Caliphates. The earliest period in
Islam was one of moral discovery, spiritual and scientific enlightenment, and
interfaith dialogue. The meeting in
Some (from many faiths) would prefer to close rather than open minds, to deny rather than accept what we are learning about God's miraculous design of our universe, and to reject rather than acknowledge how those of different religious heritages could receive God's mercy. The process that King Abdullah has launched effectively rebuts their distorted vision.
To be sure, most people are alarmed by the current state of drift and polarization. But, like Victor Hugo, they know that "more powerful than the march of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come." Let us all pray and work for this brave and generous idea.
• Abdul Rahman H. Al-Saeed is a Saudi academic whose articles appear in a number of Arabic newspapers.
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