Dr. Mozammel Haque
The first International Conference for Dialogue was held in Makkah al-Mukarramah, Saudi Arabia last June, that was inaugurated by King Abdullah at Al-Safa Palace in Makkah. That was a meeting attended by representatives of the different Muslim schools of thoughts. Before the Saudi Monarch invited the followers of all revealed religions and other cultures and civilizations, he wanted to get a mandate from the Muslim Ummah to come and say - I am now coming to you on behalf of the religious leaders, religious callers from the Muslim Ummah.
The Saudi King wanted to bring Muslims together and wanted to ask them what is your opinion and what do you think about dialogue with the non-Muslims from all over the world. There was dialogue and free discussions. Muslim scholars and representatives of Muslim communities, not only from the Muslim and Arab countries, but also of those who live in minority areas like the United States, Europe, Canada and Australia, attended the free discussions at the Makkah meet and unanimously agreed to give King Abdullah the mandate to speak on behalf of the Muslim Ummah.
That’s why King Abdullah was very strong. He was not coming on his own but he made Shoura and free discussions and got the free authorization. The Makkah conference told him to “go ahead in the name of Allah the Almighty. Allah blesses you and we are behind you.”
King Abdullah immediately within a month came to the West, to Europe and selected the most suitable country, Spain. Spain has the golden history in this kind of dialogue and has religious freedom for followers of different religions. The World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid took completely a new direction. All previous conferences for dialogue were held between religions where participants presented views of their religions. This was not successful experience because people or followers of religions were stick to their beliefs. The Madrid gathering was completely different. It assembled the followers of different religions, cultures and civilizations, who presented their views on issues facing mankind.
The Madrid Conference on Dialogue was significant in many respects. Firstly, the venue selected for this conference was Spain, known for its historical symbolism as a place where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together in peace. It was “a natural place for this type of dialogue” since for centuries it has been home to members of three of the world’s great religions, said the Saudi Ambassador to Spain, Saud bin Naif.
Secondly, it was indeed a historic and unique occasion because the two heads of state, the King of Saudi Arabia and the King of Spain, inaugurated this World Conference on Dialogue. “Your Majesty, your personal presence gives new impetus to broaden the dimensions of existing inter-religious dialogue and reinforces the premise that religious communities and leaders can and must play a role in easing tension,” said Rabbi Arthur Schneier, President, Appeal of Conscience Foundation, Member, UN Alliance of Civilizations High Level Group and Senior Rabbi, Park East Synagogue, New York.
Thirdly, the conference was attended by around 300 eminent personalities and representatives from among the followers of the three revealed religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, as well as by representatives of Oriental philosophies, cultures and civilizations, and especially by those who are specialized in dialogue and issues related to the human societies, international cooperation, human rights and issues and issues of peace, security and co-existence in the world. So the participants were not only the followers of revealed religions but also the followers of some specific philosophy, cultures, thoughts and civilizations. Among the attendees were the Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress Michael Schneider and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, in charge of dialogue between the Vatican and Muslims and the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has recently launched his own Tony Blair Faith Foundation. This is the first time in history that such a gathering took place.
Fourthly, the world is facing countless challenges that threaten the very existence of mankind. The conference focuses on a common vision and principles acceptable to all as its aim was to focus on human issues and challenges facing the world and avoid theological questions. The Secretary General of the Muslim World League, Dr. Abdullah Mohsin al-Turki, 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 conference stressed the need to build a bridge of mutual understanding and co-existence between various people so that the world would be free from the evils of war, injustice, violence, terrorism, drugs and depravity, the MWL chief said.
Fifthly, King Abdullah had initiated the dialogue in order to discuss and seek solutions to the myriad problems facing humanity, such as erosion of family norms, weakening of moral values, and conflicts among nations, peoples, societies and civilizations. Speaking about the Madrid conference, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Vatican City, said, “Since the very beginning of our meeting, King Abdullah has focused the objectives of this conference on Dialogue with a courageous speech when he declared: “If we wish this historic meeting to succeed, we must focus on the common denominators that unite us, namely faith in God, noble principles, and lofty moral values which constitute the essence of religion.”
Sixthly, King Abdullah made a tremendous move by demonstrating both to the Muslims and the rest of the world that it is possible, in fact, it is sacred to be both the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, defender of the faith and also as the promoter of peace and harmony with other faiths. Speakers at the conference praised King Abdullah as a peacemaker and initiated debate about establishing the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Global Centre for Inter-Faith Dialogue. “No statesman realizes the need for peace more acutely than King Abdullah whose Kingdom lies in the vortex of an imagined clash of civilizations,” said Jose de Venecia, a Filipino who is Vice-President of Christian Democratic International and Chairman of CDI-Asia Pacific International Conference of Asian Political Party.
Last but not least, religion is blamed for war, conflicts and confrontation, which is not correct. “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,” said King Abdullah while opening the three-day international conference. “Many disputes seem to have been caused by religion, but in reality these are caused by reasons outside religious beliefs,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
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.”