2. The Saudis' dubious interfaith agenda at the UN by Donald H. Argue and Leonard A. Leo
3. Bush, other leaders to promote interfaith dialogue at UN by Jane Lampman
4. Muslim, Catholic Dialogue to take place at Islamic Centre of Rochester
Saudis in move to improve image of Islam
By Abeer Allam in
The conference, which begins on Wednesday, is seen as part of the Saudi monarch’s efforts to promote a more moderate brand of Islam in a kingdom that has been accused of breeding extremism since the September 11 attacks in 2001. By sponsoring interfaith events, King Abdullah may also be hoping to advance the debate over radicalism within the kingdom.
George W. Bush,
“The dialogue comes at a time when the world is criticising Islam,” the Saudi monarch told local media. “It is regrettable that some of our sons have been tempted by Satan or the brothers of Satan.’’
Last year the king met Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican; earlier this year, he arranged a conference of Muslim sects at the holy city of Mecca and, in July, he presided over a gathering of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists hosted by Spain.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who will represent Pope Benedict at the UN and heads the
The kingdom, the birthplace of Islam, adheres to the puritanical Wahabi Islam and fares poorly in international reports on religious freedom because it does not permit the open practice of other faiths and restricts or brands heretical other Muslim sects, including Shia, Sufi and Ismaili.
Some Saudis remain sceptical as to the local benefits of such a dialogue, however, particularly for the estimated 1.5m to 2m Shia living in
Human Rights Watch urged world leaders in a statement on Tuesday to pressure King Abdullah to end discrimination against religious monitories in the kingdom. “There is no religious freedom in
Additional reporting by Harvey Morris in
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008
The Saudis' dubious interfaith agenda at the UN
The country's lack of religious freedom betrays its lofty rhetoric. The real aim of its 'dialogue' is to promote a global blasphemy law.
By Donald H. Argue and Leonard A. Leo
November 13, 2008
Saudi King Abdullah, who initiated this week's special session, is quietly enlisting the leaders' support for a global law to punish blasphemy – a campaign championed by the 56-member Organization of Islamic Conference that puts the rights of religions ahead of individual liberties.
If the campaign succeeds, states that presume to speak in the name of religion will be able to crush religious freedom not only in their own country, but abroad.
The UN session is designed to endorse a meeting of religious leaders in
The lofty-sounding principle is, in fact, a cleverly coded way of granting religious leaders the right to criminalize speech and activities that they deem to insult religion. Instead of promoting harmony, however, this effort will exacerbate divisions and intensify religious repression.
Such prohibitions have already been used in some countries to restrict discussion of individuals' freedom vis-à-vis the state, to prevent criticism of political figures or parties, to curb dissent from prevailing views and beliefs, and even to incite and to justify violence.
They undermine the standards codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the keystone of the United Nations, by granting greater rights to religions than to individuals, including those who choose to hold no faith – or who would seek to convert.
Another stark irony hangs over the UN special session this week.
The Saudi government permits the public practice of only one interpretation of Islam. This forces the 2-to-3 million Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and other expatriate workers there to leave their convictions at the border, since non-Muslim places of worship are prohibited, non-Muslim religious materials risk confiscation, and even private worship is affected by the strictures.
It also violates the rights of the large communities of Muslims who adhere to Islamic traditions other than the one deemed orthodox by Saudi clerics. In the past two years, dozens of Shiites have been detained for up to 30 days for holding small religious gatherings at home. One Ismaili, Hadi Al-Mutaif, is serving a life sentence after being condemned for apostasy in 1994 for a remark he made as a teenager that was deemed blasphemous. The alleged crime of apostasy, in fact, can be punished by death.
The government's policies are enforced by the Commission to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice, a roving religious police force, armed with whips, that regularly oversteps its authority and is unchecked by the judiciary.
Women seeking to exercise basic freedoms of speech, movement, association, and equality before the law have experienced particularly severe abuse.
In a particularly egregious recent case, a woman was gang-raped as punishment by seven men who found her alone in a car with a man who was not her relative. She escaped the sentence of 200 lashes and six months in prison only because of a pardon by King Abdullah, yet he also said he believed the sentence was appropriate.
Holding a session on advancing interfaith dialogue abroad is a pale substitute for hosting it in the kingdom, where the message of respect for freedom of religion and belief is most needed.
Against the background of Saudi repression and the kingdom's role in exporting extremism, including through school textbooks preaching hatred of "unbelievers," the UN and every world leader attending the special session should be demanding an end to severe violations of religious freedom in
Dialogue is no substitute for compliance with universal human rights standards.
The monarch would make a far greater contribution by exponentially increasing his efforts to promote religious freedom at home, where religious intolerance reigns. A welcome first step would be to release Hadi Al-Mutaif and all other religious prisoners who remain behind bars in
• Donald H. Argue and Leonard A. Leo are members of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Bush, other leaders to promote interfaith dialogue at UN
The gathering follows a successful Muslim-Catholic forum at the
By Jane Lampman, November 12, 2008
The global effort to build a "culture of peace" among Christians and Muslims and other faiths is gaining some momentum this month, both symbolically and substantively.
After a groundbreaking meeting between Roman Catholic and Muslim religious leaders last week, world political leaders this week are meeting to heighten the visibility and broaden the commitment to interfaith dialogue. On Nov. 12 and 13 at the United Nations, President Bush gathers with a dozen heads of state and other leaders to lend political backing to interfaith initiatives. The prime minister of
"The idea is to send a unified clear message that the world community is in consensus in promoting interfaith dialogue and speaking against extremism, intolerance, and terrorism," says Rayed Krimly, special envoy of Saudi Arabia, whose king, Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz, was the driving force behind this week's meeting. Heading a nation that has restricted other religions, King Abdullah "felt very strongly he needs to put his moral and political authority on the line." The king began calling for interfaith dialogue at a Muslim summit in
Human Rights Watch called Tuesday for world leaders to press
The meeting follows a separate interfaith initiative – the first Catholic-Muslim forum at the
"We've turned an important page in the whole history of Christian-Muslim relations," says Fr. James Massa, head of interreligious affairs for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. "What this conference has done is make the connection so clearly between core commitments of faith and respect for religious freedom and other human rights, and this is a remarkable achievement."
Among their commitments, the top leaders agreed on: the right of individuals to choose in matters of conscience and to practice their religion in private and public; that religious minorities are to be respected and are entitled to their own places of worship; that human dignity and respect should be extended on an equal basis to both men and women.
They agreed to hold a second forum in a Muslim-majority country and to explore "establishing a permanent Catholic-Muslim committee to coordinate responses to conflicts and other emergency situations."
Such a crisis-management effort could help deal with events like the Danish cartoon crisis or the recent attacks against Christian communities in
Protestants met with Muslim leaders at
The Catholic-Muslim interaction seemed most problematical. Two years ago, the pope's speech at
Under Pope Benedict, the
"The pope's reception was very warm," says Dr. Kalin. "The consensus was we don't have to have uniformity [in theology] in order to develop common strategies to deal with problems of the world. Overall, it was a very successful event."
[Editor's note: The original headline didn't express the full scope of the gathering.]
Muslim, Catholic Dialogue to take place at Islamic Centre
Nov 12, 2008
The Muslim Catholic Alliance will present a series, "Do Catholics and Muslims Share a Common Word?" during November.
The first program, "Who Speaks for Islam? Who Speaks for Christianity? The Challenge of Identifying the Authentic Contemporary Voice for Each of Our Religions," was Nov. 10. The other two programs, which will take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Islamic Centre of Rochester,
Nov. 17: "What is the Common Word We Share?" with Dr. David Bell and Dr. Susan Nowak, SSJ.
Nov. 24: "Going Beyond Sharing a Common Word: The Urgency of Collaboration" with Anees Masood and Marvin Mich.
These events are free and open to the public. Each evening’s format will include brief focusing talks by facilitators; 40 minutes for break-out sessions; and 30 minutes for group discussion.
Cosponsors are the Commission on Christian Muslim Relations and the Centre for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue at
This program was convened in response to "A Common Word Between Us and You," the recent document authored by more than 100 leading Muslim leaders and addressed to all Christian leaders, particularly Pope Benedict XVI. The