Jews, Muslims, Christians and people of other faiths dialogue for peace
By Ahmed J Versi and Dr Mozammel Haque in Madrid
In a historic move, the Saudi Government held an interfaith conference in July, where Jews who support Israel and one Israeli Rabbi were also invited despite opposition from many of the participants at an earlier intrafaith Muslim conference in Makkah (see The Muslim News Issue No 230). It saw an unprecedented gathering of religions, where of the 300 participants, non-Abrahamic faiths, Hindus, Sikh, Buddhists and leaders of other Eastern religions and philosophies were included.
The dialogue, which was held between 16 to 18 July, was inaugurated by King of Saudi Arabia, King, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, and King Juan Carlos of Spain, at El Prado Palace on the outskirts of Madrid.
King Abdullah opened the conference by reiterating that conflicts in the world are not caused by religion. “The tragedies we have experienced throughout history were not the fault of religion but were caused by extremism, which has been adopted by some of the followers of all religion and all political systems.” He also argued that we can live in peace as “differences don’t need to lead to disputes.” King Abdullah was confident of the success of dialogue: “Our dialogue will be a success of faith against atheism, of virtue against vice, of justice against injustice, of peace against conflicts and wars, and of human brotherhood against racism.”
King Carlos, addressing the gathering at the palace, said, “We have always been interested in strengthening peace, dialogue and cooperation on the international stage.”
The Secretary General of the Muslim World League (MWL), Dr Abdullah Mohsin al-Turki, who organised the event, said “the aim of inter-faith conference is for us to get to know each other and to look for ways to cooperate.” The MWL chief said the conference would not interfere in religious and political issues but focus on the common factors shared by followers of divine religions and different oriental cultures.
The hastily organised Madrid conference was held following a decision at the intrafaith dialogue in Makkah where over 700 Islamic scholars and Muslim leaders of various schools of thought recommended holding an interfaith conference. But many of them felt that more dialogue within the Muslim communities was needed before having an interfaith meeting. In addition, many believed dialogue should not be held with those Jews who support the state of Israel.
At the interfaith conference in Madrid there were very few leading Islamic scholars participating. Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Shaykh Abdul Aziz, Mufti of Egypt, Shaykh Ali Gomaa and others were not present.
However, the above notwithstanding, the conference was a success where all faith representatives were allowed to present their views without any restrictions.
The discussions and speeches were generally cordial. However, there were moments when heated debate took place on the issue of dialogue with the Jewish community and, at the end of the session, about lack of consultation with all the faith representatives on drafting the final resolution.
Adviser on Cultural Affairs to the President of the UAE, Dr Izzeddin Ibrahim Mustafa, upset many Jewish delegates because they felt that he had attacked Zionism in his speech on ‘Future prospects for Muslim-Christian-Jewish dialogue’. Chief Rabbi David Rosen, Chair of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations in Israel, criticised Dr Mustafa’s apparent attack on Zionism. Rabbi Rosen, who was the only Israeli present at the conference, told The Muslim News after the meeting that he believed Dr Mustafa had said, “I can dialogue with the Jews but not with the Zionists.” Rabbi Rosen argued that this meant “intentional separation of Jews from a land with which intrinsic bond is part of their religious self understanding” and for a dialogue to take place, “we have to understand how the other sees himself or herself.” However, Dr Mustafa told The Muslim News that he never said this and that he was misquoted in the media too. He said for Muslim-Jewish dialogue to take place, “some clarifications are needed about Judaism, which is a religion, and Zionism, which is a political system. Secondly, we have to identify those who believe in peace from those who believe resort to violence, from both sides [Muslim and Jews]. I didn’t say we won’t have dialogue with Zionists.”
Mufti of Bosnia, Dr Mustafa Ceric, responding to Rabbi Rosen, acknowledged that the Muslims need to understand Jewish perspective on Israel but argued that the Jews have to understand Muslim perspective on Palestine as well. “You have no right to separate Muslims from their land and no one has the right to separate Jews from their land. We need to see Jerusalem through a mirror and it looks very ugly. It is a shame we Abrahamic faiths are not able to speak on Palestinian issue and it is a shame we cannot resolve the issue of Palestine,” said Dr Ceric.
The conference was unique in that the Makkah based MWL did not invite Jews who were against the state of Israel as most Muslim events do. However, important leaders of Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and Jewish-renewal movements in the US, a Rabbi high on the staff of United Jewish Appeal (UJA) on New York, Deputy Chief Rabbi of Britain, head of the Latin-American Jewish Congress, and many others, what Director of the Shalom Center, New York, Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Rabbi Phyllis Berman of the Tent of Abraham, Hagar and Sarah, called “a rainbow of Jewish life.” There were about 15 rabbis and Jewish scholars at the conference.
The other contentious issue was the absence of women speakers or chair. There were a handful of women participants. Many highlighted the lack of female participation. The organisers listened and the next day, in one of the sessions, a Spanish woman, Dr Mekia Nedjar, Researcher in Mediterranean Studies at Madrid University, spoke on the role of women in interfaith dialogue. She argued that participation of women in interfaith dialogue was of utmost importance.
Former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who attended the conference praised King Abdullah for initiating the interfaith conference. “It is a great initiative by King Abdullah. There is a growing appetite to see peaceful co-existence between people of different faiths,” he told The Muslim News.
President of Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue at The Vatican City, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, told The Muslim News that King Abdullah’s initiative was “very courageous” and that dialogue was important as “we as believers have many things in common” and so it was important “for us to work together so that the work would be more fraternal.”
Chairman of the Christian Democratic International Asia Pacific, Congressman Jose de Venecia, Jr, told The Muslim News that “The time has come for all of us as God’s children to unite and to reason and dialogue together.”
The Human Rights Activist, Jesse Jackson, told The Muslim News that the conference was “refreshing and enlightening” and that “we should focus on the issues that matter: hunger, disease, drinkable water.” He added that he was “very much moved” the by the “welcoming attitude of the King of Saudi Arabia and the King of Spain; so very moved.”
US Senator Larry Shaw argued that “religion gets blamed a lot more than it is responsible.” “I believe religion has the power to contribute to peace making; it has the power to understand each other and appreciate each other; respect each other’s dignity and worth and when that happens people talk to each other, begin to know each other,” he told The Muslim News.
Secretary General of the World Council of Religious Leaders (Of The Millennium World Peace Summit) Bawa Jain, believed that the conference was the “most significant initiative,” because “it has the backing of one of the most powerful people on the planet, King Abdullah, and I know that we owe a debt of gratitude to him. I think we should all give whatever support we can because it is our responsibility to see it succeed,” he told The Muslim News.
Legal Adviser to Dubai Islamic Bank, Professor Dr Hussain Hamed Hassan, told The Muslim News that the three faiths should have a “common code of ethics, values and principles” which should then be taught in education institutions and therefore the new generation “will be trained for love, justice, equality with the followers of other religions.” Director General of the Islamic Cultural Centre, London, Dr Ahmed al-Dubayan, said he found the participants were “very much interested in such type of dialogue”.
Sir Iqbal Sacranie from the Muslim Council of Britain while acknowledging the success of the event, argued that it was important to “evaluate outcomes of the conference” and one needs to have dialogue with the world media “about the role of faith communities on bringing about peace and reconciliation.”
The conference called on the world bodies to join together to combat terrorism and urged the UN to promote dialogue and prevent clash of civilisations. “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.”
Source : http://www.muslimnews.co.uk