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Saudi interfaith dialogue center in Vienna celebrates one-year anniversary - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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File photo of Faisal Bin Abdulrahman Bin Muaammar, Secretary-General of the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) and Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

File photo of Faisal Bin Abdulrahman Bin Muaammar, Secretary-General of the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) and Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Interreligious and intercultural dialogue was the driving vision, and firm belief, of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz that nurtured and promoted the establishment of the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID).

KAICIID is celebrating its one-year anniversary by marking the momentous occasion on Tuesday with a Global Forum in Vienna.

Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, Faisal Bin Abdulrahman Bin Muaammar, the secretary-general of the KAICIID and adviser to King Abdullah, outlines the fundamental breakthroughs initiated by the Vienna-based center in enhancing greater multicultural dialogue and exchange. He also articulated the center’s aims for the future, the pillars of the center’s success and the crucial lessons we should learn from history in advancing a truly internationally representative effort to keep and spread peace.

Asharq Al-Awsat: What is your opinion of the KAICIID’s progress and achievements in the year since it was founded?

Faisal Bin Abdulrahman Bin Muaammar: Let us agree first that dialogue between followers of different faiths and cultures is an essential responsibility, especially in our age, and is also a humanitarian duty. I am not exaggerating when I say that the lack of a rational dialogue has caused many disputes, for which everyone has paid a heavy price and which gave way to conflicts and clashes between different religions and cultures. It cannot be ignored that what further fueled these conflicts—whether it be apparent political or economic interests or hidden ones—is a desire for domination, or for imposing a certain culture in place of another. This is why everyone has realized that a balanced, rational dialogue is the ideal way to achieve international peace and avoid conflicts.

I have every faith that the KAICIID will be able to create better prospects for dialogue and shed light on common values shared by followers of different religions and cultures. Our initial efforts were very encouraging, and nothing demonstrates this more than the international community’s support for the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosque’s initiative for dialogue between different religions and cultures, which was the real reason behind the establishment of the center as the first international independent vessel for dialogue.

Such support for the initiative has continued, reflected by the interaction of religious and political leaders through the center’s events and programs, which ran throughout 2013. We are confident that this interaction will increase over time, yet we are conscious of the fact that the lengthy delay in building bridges of dialogue between followers of different faiths and cultures cannot be remedied overnight. There are real problems hindering the dialogue’s efficacy. We are well of aware of this, and we are acting to find practical solutions to such problems and are striving to remedy the delay of a substantive dialogue between followers of different faiths and cultures.

Q: In your opinion, what are the reasons behind the success of the center’s activities and programs in its first year?

Without a doubt it is the determination, planning and good intentions exhibited by King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz’s initiative for dialogue between followers of different faiths and cultures, as well as the resulting support for the initiative from the international community. He has made the greatest contribution in directing the establishment of the center and the launch of its initiatives throughout the year 2013.

Let us remember as well how the world celebrated the initiative when it was launched by the King during the Extraordinary Islamic Summit [the Third Extraordinary Session of the Islamic Summit Conference] held in the holy city of Mecca in 2005. The celebration continued during the International Islamic Conference for Dialogue held in Mecca in June 2008, attended by over 500 Muslim scholars from around the world, as well as during the International Conference for Dialogue held in Madrid in July 2008. The conference’s concluding statement, the Madrid Declaration, recommended holding a special UN session for King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz’s initiative for dialogue between followers of different faiths and cultures. The UN General Assembly welcomed the initiative in its meeting in November 2008 by affirming that dialogue is a necessity for strengthening the values of justice and peace.

Consequently, during the World Interreligious Dialogue Conference held in Vienna in July 2009, a commission was formed to do a follow-up and establish principles for founding an international center for dialogue between followers of different faiths and cultures. The Geneva conference held in October 2009 also backed the initiative and affirmed its support for establishing the center. What followed was the signing of a foundational agreement between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Austria and Spain in the presence of a representative from the Vatican. The center was officially inaugurated on November 26, 2012, in a large ceremony held in the Hofburg Palace, Vienna, attended by approximately 850 international religious and political leaders, scholars, intellectuals and academics.

In fact, the international support for the initiative has contributed to the speedy establishment of the center, as the first international independent center for dialogue between different faiths and cultures. It has also contributed to the vast interaction with the center’s activities and programs for enriching dialogue, as well as helping to remove obstacles and overcome the common difficulties of new beginnings, especially in the formation of the center’s managing board and its general secretariat, or when planning an operational strategy for carrying out its mission. Here we must indicate that the stature of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the international community’s trust in his sincere efforts to establish values of justice and tolerance have both been key ingredients of the success you pointed out. This is in addition to the interaction of all religious and cultural leaders, from across the world, with the center’s activities.

Q: To what extent can we say that international support for the initiative and the interaction with the center’s efforts came from a belief in the importance of dialogue between followers of different faiths and cultures?

Truthfully, dialogue is the “language of life” and is an absolute necessity for the coexistence of civilizations. Dialogue is also a reflection of civilized and informed awareness that unites everyone. Rationalists must be well aware that diversity and divergence are facts of life, determined by Allah Almighty, and are elements of cooperation and integration, as opposed to rivalry and disagreements. The need for dialogue must be clear to any rational mind, as human history is full of examples that demonstrate this. Conversely, the absence of dialogue was a cause of numerous disputes and struggles that caused humanity so many victims and losses. The contemporary world has definitely understood this and realized the importance of dialogue and of having convergence of thoughts between followers of different faiths and cultures, with the aim of putting an end to the calls for clashes and struggles from which humanity has suffered for decades.

Let us imagine that this dialogue between followers of different faiths and cultures began long ago in an honest, impartial, sincere and principled manner to solve existing disputes. I affirm that if this was to happen, it would have warded off heavy losses and humanity would have been safer. Now, there has been clear evidence of a growing belief in the importance of dialogue—more than ever before—to prevent further losses in the future, as well as to lay solid foundations for cooperation and coexistence between all of humanity.

Q: So why have more contemporary calls for dialogue between followers of different religions been generally unsuccessful in finding solutions to conflicts?

In my opinion, these were not calls for dialogue, they were forms of compulsory negotiation. A thorough reader of historical facts can see that dialogue, based on clear and explicit values and principles, is the ideal way to find solutions to disputes. This includes armed disputes, which have never succeeded in imposing real peace and coexistence between the fighting parties. In addition, many conflicts are shrouded by religious slogans to achieve political or economic interests. They are not essentially religious or cultural conflicts, because the core of all religions honors human life, safeguards morality, and promotes interaction and cooperation.

Perhaps calls for dialogue in the past were not successful in finding solutions to such disputes because they were unable to overcome the psychological barriers that have existed for many years, and also because some of these calls have perhaps handled struggles as purely religious or cultural ones, not political ones with specific goals that could completely contradict the teachings of religion. In addition to this, several calls for dialogue between followers of different faiths and cultures were issued within narrow limits and through the theoretical discourses of elites, which never reached the public at large. Conversely, we must not ignore the existence of those who attempted to silence such calls to achieve political interests, or others who have limited knowledge of religious teachings, or those who seek to fuel abhorrent racial or ethnic disputes. We are well aware of this and are adopting initiatives and programs to overcome such psychological barriers and extend bridges of confidence between different human societies. We will do this by spreading and promoting the dialogue of culture and peaceful coexistence based on a clear vision that religion is a strong foundation for consolidating the dialogue of culture and coexistence.

The shared space between followers of different faiths and cultures allows cooperation and existence between them, without exclusion, discrimination, arrogance or domination. This deeply-held conviction that dialogue is not an end in itself, but rather a means towards understanding and eliminating the prevailing stereotypes propagated by followers of a certain faith or culture towards followers of other religions and cultures.