Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, has proposed the establishment of a Riyadh-based center for dialogue between Islamic sects. Will this end the center of conflict and division between Islam’s sects? No, we cannot say this; however establishing this center and initiating dialogue will have significant benefits for all Muslims.
The first benefit of dialogue between Islamic sects is promoting the acceptance of other sects and denominations. This is the crux of the matter, and represents the greatest thing that we could accomplish in this regard, particularly as sectarianism in our region has reached horrifyingly high levels. Differences of opinion between sects are now the result of real events, not ancient differences of opinion which are as old as the religion of Islam itself. Our region, and indeed all members of the Islamic faith, previously experienced long eras of coexistence and peace, where any differences of opinion remained within a specific framework, and everybody co-existed peacefully with one another for long periods of time. However today, thanks to modern technology, it is easy to argue, defame and inflame tensions to the point that sectarian conflict is now a threat to the region as a whole, particularly with Iran’s political ambitions in the region, and the size of the political changes that have taken place around us, whether in Iraq, Lebanon or what is happening in Syria today.
Therefore, a center for dialogue between Islamic sects is needed and welcome, politically, religiously, and socially. The true importance of this is that it is the result of a Saudi call, particularly from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz. For this call for dialogue between Islamic sects’ means that the land of the Two Holy Mosques was, and indeed remains, far removed from inter-Islamic division, indeed Saudi Arabia is seeking to breach these divides, standing against political sectarianism, which represents the correct approach. Saudi Arabia is the land of the Two Holy Mosques, the Muslim’s qibla [direction faced when Muslim’s pray] and its major role, not to mention its focus since the foundation of the Kingdom by founder King Abdulaziz Bin Abdulrahman Al Saud – may he rest in peace – has been to serve Islam and Muslims in all walks of life. Therefore Saudi Arabia is not a sectarian state, it is a unification project. As for the division between people; this is in the hands of God Almighty.
From here, the call made by the Saudi monarch for the establishment of a center for religious dialogue between Islamic sects means that Saudi Arabia rejects sectarianism, and does not use this as a tool for influence or political control. Riyadh has not adopted its position on what is happening in Syria, for example, based on sectarian logic, as some claim, for King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz tried to resolve the situation in Syria on a number of occasions, both with al-Assad the father and al-Assad the son. Whilst King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz also extended his hand to Iran, since the time of Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani, and granted Iraq every opportunity during the Saddam Hussein era, during which he famously shook hands with Izzat al-Douri in Lebanon in 2002. This also applies to post-Saddam Iraq under Nuri al-Maliki, and now we see the Saudi monarch returning once more to extend his hand to all sects and denominations, not just states or individuals. The Saudi monarch did not do this for political propaganda purposes, and the evidence of this is that King Abdullah was the first person to launch national dialogue in Saudi Arabia at a time when dialogue was not in vogue in the region. King Abdullah also launched inter-faith dialogue as well. Therefore, this means that the Saudi monarch truly believes in dialogue, and is certainly not using this as political propaganda!
The ball is now in the court of those who use sectarianism; will they allow this opportunity to pass them by, or will they make sure that religion remains far removed from politics? That is the question.