The United Nations headquarters in New York will today host an important and historic event, an Interfaith Conference to be held in the UN General Assembly. An Interfaith Conference initiated by Saudi Arabian King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz.
The genesis of King Abdullah’s idea for the interfaith dialogue can be traced back to his meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister in Riyadh 2007, the idea crystallized with King Abdullah’s visit to the World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid earlier this year, and finally takes root today having taken on international dimensions.
The importance of the Interfaith Conference lies in the fact that it was initiated by Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam and land of the Two Holy Mosques, and by a King who inherently believed in dialogue, culture, and communication before the terrorist attacks which rocked Saudi Arabia and the world.
Previously King Abdullah has sponsored the Saudi Arabian Janadriya cultural and heritage festival before his ascension to the throne. He even invited guests not considered friends of Saudi Arabia, both Western and Arabs, saying ‘Let those who know nothing of us come and see and discuss the issue from within Saudi Arabia itself’.
Following the outbreak of global terrorism which began with the attacks on America and even reached so far as Riyadh and other Saudi Arabian cities, it was King Abdullah who publicly confronted adherents of these destructive ideas. He received statesmen, religious scholars, and academics to discuss this issue, not in secret but in televised forums.
All of his speeches call for more dialogue, and he has said previously: We have arrived at a time where we don’t know what dialogue is, a time when anybody who disagrees with us is considered to be against us, not only externally but even within Saudi Arabia itself. Therefore if Saudi Arabia was to initiate the interfaith dialogue before solidifying a culture of dialogue at home, we would have told those who wish to criticize to do so.
But that’s not the case since King Abdullah launched a national dialogue within Saudi Arabia, which has reverberated throughout our region, moving from issue to issue, and city to city, and amongst all segments of Saudi Arabian society.
The Saudi Monarch didn’t stop at here; he also stated during his famous speech in al-Qassim that he rejects any labeling that casts doubts on others, be they fundamentalists, liberals or secularists whether these descriptions are used rightly or wrongly. He also coined the phrase ‘alleged nationalism’ (nationalistic elitism) telling his people to avoid it, while stressing that all citizens have the right to build and interact.
Anyone who has witness the reaction in Saudi Arabia, particularly following the terrorist operations of 2003, will understand the importance in discussing ‘alleged nationalism’ especially since the country has become a hub of ideas, which represents a new reality, and how could it be any other way when the country as a whole was faced with international accusations after the events of 9/11.
And so when the Saudi King comes to New York talking about dialogue of religions, it is a cumulative consequence of the efforts exerted in Saudi Arabia itself. It is the initiative of a King who has performed his duty with regards to internal reform and has achieved real mobility within his country.
Today in New York we see the difference between those who seek closeness and unity, and those who use sectarian issues to divide and separate. Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz is a man of serious political initiatives, which can be seen from the time of the Lockerbie bombing, through the Arab Peace Initiative, and today with the Interfaith Conference we see this initiative of goodwill and peace.