By Samar Fatany
July 26, 2013
The interfaith dialogue initiated by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to build bridges of understanding between Islam and the West was emphasized by two prominent ambassadors to Saudi Arabia at the annual Iftar party of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) in Riyadh this week.
Turkish Ambassador to the Kingdom Ahmet Muhtar Gun said: "The increasing intolerance and xenophobia on the basis of racial, ethnic, and religious differences continue to be the main concern for us, because they are the diseases of modern times." He stressed the importance of the two noble initiatives to promote global coexistence “the alliance of civilizations” and the interfaith dialogue initiated by King Abdullah.
Also, in his speech to the event, Italian Ambassador Mario Boffo said: "In the framework of a constant search for bridges between our civilizations, where young people have a great role to play, let me just mention the Saudi initiative for the creation of the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in Vienna last year, as well as Italy’s long-standing engagement in support of the protection of human rights worldwide, freedom of religion and the rights of children and women."
Meanwhile, Secretary General of WAMY Dr. Saleh Bin Sulaiman Al-Wohaibi emphasised the role humanitarian organizations play in providing relief in times of crises or providing help and expertise and how they have played an important part in bringing together different people from around the world. He said: "The majority of Muslims believe that there is a genuine desire by many noble people in the West to put an end to Islamophobia. Nevertheless there are many Muslims who still feel threatened by Western extremists who continue to demonize Islam and Muslims.
It is very evident that there is a greater need to foster interfaith relations and build bridges of understanding between Muslim societies and the West. Saudi Arabia is leading this campaign and promoting King Abdullah’s initiative of interfaith dialogue. Moreover, there are genuine efforts of religious leaders in the West who are dedicated to building peaceful coexistence among the Abrahamic faiths."
It is heartening to know that there are imams, clergymen, rabbis and other religious leaders in many parts of the world who are on a mission to find common ground and build trust and respect among all religions.
A 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. There is a need to provide stronger support for the coalition of 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 gives us all a sense of optimism to know that there are efforts to stop the spread of Islamophobia and the discrimination against people of different faiths. There is a greater need to support religious leaders of conscience who are engaged in organizing interactive workshops and giving presentations to religious school educators and administrators to stimulate interreligious thinking and to create better teaching models and to continuously monitor publications, films and other classroom resources.
Through interfaith learning, coalition initiatives could enable all to understand 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 encouraged and implemented on a global scale in order to promote friendly relations and goodwill between the West and the Muslim world.
Muslim organizations like WAMY in Saudi Arabia that support King Abdullah’s initiative of interfaith dialogue need more qualified scholars and media professionals to seek genuine interfaith initiatives emerging from the West and to find ways to link up to highlight Muslim contributions that provide a positive perspective that promotes peace and harmony.
Radicalism and extremism are fundamentally ideological crises that need to be addressed more openly and effectively by Muslim scholars and researchers in order to reach a global Muslim consensus that can guide the Muslim nation toward peace and global coexistence. The Saudi government has taken major steps to combat extremism and spread the culture of moderation and tolerance within Saudi society. Many international forums and conferences have been held in the Kingdom to discuss the concept of moderation in Islam and to promote peace and tolerance.
Among the most prominent was the special Islamic summit that was held in Makkah in December 2005 to reaffirm the consensus of all Muslim countries to renounce violence, extremism and terrorism, and to promote the values of dialogue, tolerance and mutual respect among religions and cultures. In May 2008, King Abdullah met with Muslim scholars of different sects and ideologies in Makkah to promote the genuine message of Islamic tolerance during the International Islamic Conference for Dialogue. The Ministry for Islamic Affairs has also held a series of conferences across the country to combat delinquent thought that is detrimental to the progress and advancement of a Muslim’s life in the 21st century. In addition, the Prince Khaled Al-Faisal Chair for consolidating a Saudi moderation approach was inaugurated in 2009 with the objective of enabling the community to reject the culture of extremism and fanaticism and of promoting the Saudi moderation approach.
Let us pray during this holy month of Ramadan for all peace-loving people to unite and stand against radicals who continue to undermine global efforts to promote peace and coexistence. Let us hope that peaceful partners and allies — as well as religious leaders — will continue to hold on to a spirit of goodwill and mutual respect in order to regain the peace of the world and a better future for our younger generation.
Samar Fatany is a radio broadcaster and writer.