King Abdullah International Dialogue
Centre opens in Vienna: A historic day
Dr. Mozammel Haque
VIENNA: The King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) was opened at the Hofburg Palace, Vienna, on Monday, the 26th of November, 2012, in the presence of a global audience of almost 800 guests, including ambassadors, government representatives, religious leaders, academics and scholars. Many non-governmental organisations, cultural institutions and interfaith groups were also represented.
The ceremonial opening of the centre was carried out by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, the Foreign Ministers of the three founding States, HRH Prince Saud bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, HE. Michael Spindelegger of the Republic of Austria and HE. Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo of the Kingdom of Spain, the President of the Vatican Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in the Vatican City, His Eminence Cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran, the Secretary General of the Muslim World League, Dr. Abdullah Mohsin Al-Turki, the Ecumenical Patriarch, His All Holiness Bartholomew-1, the Archbishop of Madrid, Antonio Maria Rouco Varela and the Chief Rabbi of Moscow and President of Conference of European Rabbis, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt.
It was witnessed by KAICIID’s Board of Directors, by its Secretary General, HE. Faisal bin Abdulrahman bin Muaammar and the Deputy Secretary General, Ms. Claudia Bandion-Ortner.
Though the centre is the brainchild of King Abdullah, it is established in Vienna, Austria and Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Saudi Foreign Minister, signed the agreement for the establishment of the centre with the Austrian Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger and Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Trinidad Jimenez, in the presence of representatives of international organisations. They are the Founding States of the Centre and these constitute the “Council of Parties” responsible for overseeing the establishment of the Centre. The Holy See has a role as a Founding Observer.
Not only that, The Vatican, a strong supporter of the project, has joined as a founding observer and will be represented on the board, which, according to the treaty, must have three Christians, three Muslims, a Jew, a Hindu and a Buddhist.
It is rightly said, “The strong endorsements by the United Nations, the Vatican, which has joined as a founding observer and is represented on the board, and the board of high-level representatives of the major world religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism) are enough to silence the voices of sceptics and extremists in all religions who are obstacles to peace and a threat to global prosperity.”
Before I start writing the proceedings of the inauguration ceremony with the speeches delivered by the Foreign Ministers, UN Secretary General, Cardinal Tauran and representatives of different religions and cultures, I would like to point out that this centre (KAICIID) is the first global international organisation with multi-faith oversight focused on religion and is backed by an international treaty signed by Austria, Spain and Saudi Arabia.
Another point I would also like to make it clear that although launched by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and named after King Abdullah, Faisal bin Muammar, Secretary General of KAICIID, stressed it is not a Saudi entity. “This is an international institution,” he said and added, “About 70 percent of the world’s religions are on its board. The centre will be a neutral place to exchange ideas.”
Speeches at the Opening Ceremony
The official opening ceremony started with the speeches of the Foreign Ministers of the Founding States of the Centre.
Two personal video messages of congratulations and support were screened, one from King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, The Custodian of Two Holy Mosques and the other from King Juan Carlos I of Spain.
Prince Saud Al-Faisal
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, said that “Vienna was selected to host the Centre considering its contributions to human civilization. It is the .most suitable place for a centre whose goal is to bring peoples and cultures closer and deepen the values of moderation and tolerance,” said Prince Saud.
Speaking about the long journey of King Abdullah’s interfaith dialogue, he said King Abdullah’s interfaith dialogue initiative had its origin in Makkah. “The centre which we open today is the fruit of great endeavours that began in Makkah, and continued in Madrid and New York. This opening means we have crossed the phase of preparation to start actual working to achieve the centre’s objectives,” the Prince said.
Prince Saud described KAICIID as a historic initiative by King Abdullah. “We hope it would encourage objective and responsible human dialogue to strengthen the common grounds of the followers of different faiths that represent the core of divine messages and human cultures.”
He said the centre would take up important issues that concern all human beings and that were the reasons behind costly wars, bloody conflict and loathsome crimes.
Prince Saud said lack of moral values was creating a lot of social problems around the world, including dismemberment of family relations, spread of injustice and corruption and increasing number of crimes. “We hope that this centre would work for promoting understanding among the followers of different faiths as well as for reviving moral and human values,” he added.
Prince Saud added that the KAICIID is the only centre that includes clerics and their decisions are basic for interfaith and intercultural dialogue.
Prince Saud urged the centre to work for deepening the values of tolerance, understanding and respecting the other and prevent abuse of religions and Prophets. He thanked all those who supported the dialogue centre project.
King of Spain, King Juan Carlos I
In his videoed address to the opening ceremony, King Juan Carlos of Spain commended the establishment of the centre, saying it was the result of the first dialogue conference in Madrid. “Spain is a country whose heritage embraces a long history of coexistence between different cultures and religions. This experience leads us to believe that the initiative will be able to attain a high profile which will serve as a compliment to the efforts made in other forums, particularly within the sphere of the United Nations,” said King Carlos.
King of Spain praised King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz for the initiative. “I would like to thank and congratulate King Abdullah for promoting this project with such enthusiasm and in a spirit of dialogue that I am sure will guarantee the Centre’s success,” he said.
Speaking about the KAICIID, King Juan Carlos said, “I am convinced that this Centre is going to become a reference on the international scene for promoting dialogue between religions and cultures and ultimately contributing to the peace and prosperity of all peoples.”
King Juan Carlos wished success of the Centre. “My best wishes for the Centre’s success in the hope that its efforts will contribute to affirming respect for the diversity of faiths and cultures around the world,” he said.
President of the Republic of Austria
Mr. Heinz Fischer
Austrian President Mr. Heinz Fischer emphasized the importance of dialogue to settle conflicts and end violence. “Now more than ever it is imperative to actively pursue viable alternatives to aggression, violence, to bridge historical differences, build and foster understanding. I truly belief that through dialogue we can build common future based on respect, human rights, fundamental freedom as well as justice and thus contribute to promoting peaceful co-existence in pluralistic society,” Austrian President said.
While emphasizing Austria’s multi-religious and multicultural tradition, President Fischer said, “Austria has a long history of diversity, culture, religion, tradition, and language which has made Austria a good example of a heterogeneous society. Against this background, Austria has become a significant venue for intercultural interreligious dialogue to pursue the strengthening of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.”
Speaking about the KAICIID, Austrian President said, “I think that the Centre can become a powerful enabler; an enabler that offers a platform bringing together the representatives of all faiths and backgrounds giving voices to different beliefs and cultures and providing rooms for the constructive dialogue.”
“I strongly hope that the new centre will provide a unique opportunity to advocate recognition of diversity as an added value to encourage dialogue and critical discussion and finally to foster lasting peaceful co-existence,” he said.
Foreign Minister of Spain
HE Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo y Marfil
In his address to the opening ceremony, the Foreign Minister of Spain, HE Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo y Marfil, said, “I think this centre is a very relevant achievement in the process that started in Madrid, Spain that leads to the world conferences of dialogues organised later. Let me stress now that the peaceful coexistence of different cultures and religions is one of the main challenges.”
“This centre has just opened its doors will compliment this and other initiatives and projects. It is fully committed to support this centre ambition; they will also support and acknowledge the important role of the different religions,” he said.
Spanish Foreign Minister also said, “I like to encourage all countries coming from different regions, cultures and religions to cooperate with this centre sharing its principles like all so that we will build a building capacity based on peace have the say.”
Austria’s Deputy Prime Minister and
Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger
In his address to the opening ceremony, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Austria, HE Michael Spindelegger, said, “The centre shall function as a hub for other organisations currently active in the field of dialogue and thus further structure and reinforce joint weight and sustainable structure for the well being dialogue through practical projects by its means to develop a network of experts, scholars and civil society representatives so as to establish a platform for open and constructive of different faith civil society the academia will work together truly interreligious interdisciplinary manner.”
Mr. Spindelegger also said, “Founding of this centre constitutes a decisive milestone for dialogue. Next few years will translate its mandate into action and deliver responsibility of enhancing cooperative veracity and justice.”
He highlighted his speech by expressing his gratitude to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom of Spain and the support of the Holy See and underscored his speech by expressing his gratitude to the Secretary General HE Faisal bin Muaammar for their untiring efforts devoted to this noble centre and its board of directors which combines the wisdom. I look forward to see the centre flourish and contribute.”
President of the Vatican Pontifical Council for
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the centre, His Eminence Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, a French cardinal and President of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, cautioned, “We are being watched. Everyone is expecting from the initiative of His Majesty King Abdullah supported by the governments of Austria and Spain honesty, vision and credibility.”
But Cardinal Tauran acknowledged, “This centre presents another opportunity for open dialogue on many issues including those related to fundamental human rights, in particular religious freedom.”
UN Secretary General
United Nations has given wonderful encouragement to further the prospect of interreligious and intercultural dialogue providing support to the creation of multilateral organisation such as King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Dialogue Centre.
UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, said his organisation would extend all support for the successful functioning of the centre. He praised King Abdullah and the governments of Spain and Austria for their efforts to set up the centre.
UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, said during the opening ceremony “Religious leaders have immense influence. They can be powerful forces for cooperation and learning. They can set an example for interfaith dialogue.”
He called on religious leaders to “promote the universal human values and unite under precepts common to all creeds,” and he criticised extremist intolerance and the propagators of hate. “Too many religious leaders have stoked intolerance, supported extremism and propagated hate. Yet we know that blaming ‘the other’ is not a political strategy for a healthy country, continent or world,” UN Secretary General said.
Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, said, “I fully support your vision of religion as an enabler of respect and reconciliation.”
Speaking about the KAICIID, UN Secretary General said, “That the coming up of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue will bring people together based on shared faith of our common values.”
Secretary General of the
Muslim World League
Dr. Abdullah Mohsin Al-Turki
In his address at the opening ceremony, the Secretary General of the Muslim World League, Dr. Abdullah Mohsin Al-Turki, said, the centre was established in response to the desire of the leaders of different faiths to cooperate for the welfare of humanity.
Speaking about the establishment of the KAICIID, Dr. Al-Turki mentioned, “The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, has placed high priorities and has called different initiatives for dialogue and he has called two conferences by the Muslim World League; one in the Holy City of Makkah explaining the importance of dialogue from the Islamic perspective and the second was the international Madrid interfaith dialogue between the followers of different religions and cultures . This was followed by a meeting at Geneva.”
Chief Rabbi of Moscow and President of
Conference of European Rabbis,
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt
In his address to the opening ceremony, the Chief Rabbi of Moscow and President of Conference of European Rabbis, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, said, “Opening of this centre today signifies the new beginning and a new attempt to create a dialogue between different faiths and cultures. It can be definitely called a historic day. We know that all the world and their institutions, organisations meetings which are promoting interfaith dialogue.”
“But I think that the initiative King Abdullah al-Saud, the Custodian of the Two Holy Places to Islam, together with the governments of Austria and Spain is a very significant indeed,” said Chief Rabbi. .
Chief Rabbi said, “I am here today speaking as a representative of the Jewish faith and the Jewish world that I am welcoming this very important initiative coming from the very heart and soul, and the centre of the Islamic world, from the centre of spiritual and worldly power combined, from the centre which is the most important sponsor of Islamic religious life in Europe. This centre is to open its doors to dialogue and peace with other cultures and religions in the world.”
“A dialogue necessary now more than ever in order to make sure that this century will not culminate in bloodshed and war, in fear and hate, as did the last one,” Chief Rabbi said.
Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople
His All Holiness Bartholomew-1
In his keynote speech at the opening ceremony, Ecumenical Patriarch His All Holiness Bartholomew-1 expressed his gratitude to His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabian mission, treatment and initiative of establishing this centre.
Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople also said, “Today in 2012, we inaugurate this centre in hope. We join together to develop an institution which will foster every human being is our neighbour. This essential message reinforces the progress of the centre and promotes interreligious dialogue.”
“This centre continues the tradition by reaching out to people from Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism Taoism people of all faiths and cultures. This is a momentous occasion because of the possibilities this Centre holds to reduce conflict in the world,” Ecumenical Patriarch said.
Bartholomew-1 said, “Perhaps this gathering is a prophetic witness to the world. This experience of dialogue should, it must, if we transfer these ideals to the religious local parties and every city, town and village by approaching each other can become a reality.”
“The opening of a Centre helped the world turn up away from violence and turn towards mutual trust and shared holder of divinity. We look forward to the progress which is to be made to make us move to good will; from goodwill to knowledge, and from knowledge to understanding and from understanding to a place where we recognise the breath of God in every human life and feel love for each individual,” said the Ecumenical Patriarch.
Formal Signature of KAICIID Affirmation
The opening speeches and the keynote speech at the Ceremony were followed by the formal Signature of the KAICIID Affirmation by the Board of Directors.
Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Minister of Foreign affairs of Saudi Arabia, signed the agreement for the establishment of the Centre with Austrian Vice Chancellor and Minister for European and International Affairs Michael Spindelegger, and Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Trinidad Jimenez, in the presence of representatives of international organizations.
Both the three sponsoring states, which appoint the board and approve its budget and projects, and the board of directors, will take decisions by majority vote.
Thus the Evening was characterized by a cordial coming together of followers of different religions and cultures, in a shared spirit of hope and resolve. Deep conversations with an exchange of experiences in interreligious and intercultural matters were enjoyed by the guests. Evening attendees took great inspiration from the potential of KAICIID and re-emphasized their commitment to a belief in new horizons for dialogue.
Best Practice Symposium
In addition to the ceremonial opening of the Centre, events on that historic day in the KAICIID journey included a Best Practice Symposium in Hilton Hotel from morning to afternoon and afterwards a Gala Dinner, held at the Hofburg Palace.
Role of KAICIID
The Centre will act as a hub among followers of different religions and cultures, empowering others already working in the field of dialogue and promoting harmony and cooperation.
The Three-KAICIID programmes will start from January 2013 which is as follows: i) Multi-religious Collaboration for the Survival and Wellbeing of Children, ii) The Image of the Other and iii) KAICIID Fellows Programme.
The centre plans to work first on improving how religions are presented in media and schoolbooks, involving faith leaders in children’s health campaigns in poor countries and hosting religious leaders for fellowships at its Vienna headquarters.
The Board of Directors comprises high-level representatives of the major world religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism). An Advisory Forum of up to 100 members of other religions, cultural institutions and international organisations will provide a further resource of interreligious and intercultural perspective.
The KAICIID Secretariat is headed by a Secretary General, H.E. Faisal Bin Abdulrahman Bin Muaammar and Deputy Secretary General Mrs. Claudia Bandion-Ortner.
The mission of the KAICIID Centre, which is, in the words of KAICIID Secretary General, HE Faisal bin Abdulrahman bin Muaammar, “A place of leadership and applied learning,; a place where candid dialogue among followers of different religions and culture can flourish so that we can value and cherish the richness of our diversity and live together as good neighbours.”