Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Implications of the Interfaith Conference

The interfaith conference held last week at the United Nations marked a bold step for Saudi Arabia in general and King Abdullah in particular.

This sequel, of you will, to the interfaith conference held earlier this year in Madrid solidifies the world view that religion is not a justification for terrorism and the killing of innocents and that tolerance of various religions is the key to global peace.

The conference had a few unexpected surprises and its share of historic moments. Israeli Prime Minister Simon Perez made positive comments regarding the intent of King Abdullah's efforts to bring about international dialogue of religious issues. He also spoke encouragingly about the Saudi-initiated 2002 Arab peace plan that would bring peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors in exchange to Israel returning to its pre-1967 borders.

No one expects a quick resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but for the first time in decades we may see some sort of breakthrough that could eventually lead to peace.

While Saudi religious authorities have fully endorsed the interfaith conference, it's unfortunate that conservatives in some Islamic circles are critical that the Israelis were invited to the conference in the first place.

The Saudi government pointed out that the conference was held by the United Nations and, therefore, had made the invitations. But that is beside the point. Just how does one conduct an interfaith conference without inviting all religious representatives, much less a religious segment considered by Muslims to be the People of the Book. Simply put, there is no room for political agendas at such an event.

Despite the general positive reaction to the conference, there are troubling noises from some Western groups: One is the persistent question of when Saudi Arabia will permit other religions to publicly worship in the Kingdom. The other issue is the speculation that Saudi Arabia wants to have anti-blasphemy laws passed to make it a criminal offense to ridicule or mock religions.

It's been my feeling all along, and I have stated this before, that most Saudis liken the Land of the Two Holy Mosques to the Vatican. We don't expect to place a mosque inside the Vatican, so why must we consider placing a church in Jeddah or Riyadh.

But having said that, Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal noted that it's up to Muslims to decide whether such public worship will be permitted.

"The Kingdom is the cradle of Islam and a country where millions of Muslims come every year to perform the Haj and the King is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. Thus, the Kingdom is responsible for (reflecting) the desire and will of the Ummah worldwide," Prince Saud said last week.

He added that, "If you bring people together so that they understand that they have the same ethics, they have the same values, this will open the hearts and minds of people for further progress. But to say from the beginning you have to transform yourself into something which you aren't now or nothing else can be achieved is, I think, carrying the argument too far."

The other issue is the hysterical tone some Western media have taken by suggesting there is a Saudi conspiracy to demand the implementation of anti-blasphemy laws. Never mind that there has been little discussion among Saudi authorities to demand such laws. But it's not a bad idea.
Given the disaster following the publication of the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the hate directed at Muslims from conservative bloggers, perhaps an anti-blasphemy law would be appropriate.

The paranoia among the Western media would have the world believe this is an effort by Muslims to stifle any criticism of Muslim. But they forget that is would be a law to protect all religions.

The reality, though, is that Western nations would never stand for such a law because freedom of speech is so ingrained in the democratic ideal. Implementation of such a law on an international level would never get off the ground given the power of these Western countries.
But there can be a compromise.

Canada, while embracing freedom of speech and all that it holds dear in a democracy, also has stiff hate speech laws that punishes people who gratuitously mock, ridicule and threaten with violence ethnic or religious groups. It has worked well for decades. Although I should point out that it is only recently, in the aftermath of 9/11, that Canada's hate speech laws have come under criticism as too restrictive, especially when it applies to criticism of Islam.

Yet those laws have worked. Perhaps we should examine them to implement on a larger scale.


Anonymous said...

may I respectfully remind you that the Vatican (and the Pope) does NOT represent all Christians as many Muslims seem to think...
Secondly, there is a very big difference between the Vatican and the KSA: nobody is born in Vatican, people choose to go (kind of a career ...)
Thirdly: you can enter Vatican with a Koran in your hand, but not KSA with a Bible.
Fourthly: when priest in Vatican you are still allowed to convert to Islam or whatever religion you choose... Are you really free to convert to another religion than Islam in KSA?
To have a valid comparaison with the statute of KSA you would need a country like Italy to be equalled to a church, which is not the case.
As far as the blasphemy law, I'm always very surprised to see Muslims getting hysterical about "blasphemy" when non-Muslims (or some Muslims) speak of Muhammad or their religious rules in a way they do not agree with. But what about those Muslims speaking of Jesus as the "slave" of Allah as I saw in London? Or churches burning in some countries? Or forced conversions, etc... Respect must be on BOTH sides AND I think God is great enough to do the "dirty" work Himself if He wants to.
Thanks for your blog, very interesting.

Foxxi said...

I don't like to discuss religious beliefs because it's impossible to say who's wrong and who's right ...but despite the questions raised in the comment from Emma before, there's a very obvious reason not to compare the Kingdom with the Vatican's much bigger and therefore there's more space for alternatives :-)

Solomon2 said...

For those reasons alone, to compare Vatican City to the whole of Saudi Arabia is ludicrous. Comparing it with just one of King Abdullah's palace complexes would be more sensible.

Of course, nobody in the West expects King Abdullah to build a synagogue or church within the walls surrounding his palace. That's because we consider religion a personal choice.

In only one way is the comparison apt: both Vatican City and Saudi Arabia are sovereign entities where the ruler sets the State religion. Only people who expect to see religion through that prism can see the analogy as valid.

Anonymous said...

a good article.keep it up.well done saudi writer

Average Joe Body Builder said...

It is about time that the Saudi king, anyone in Saudi Arabia recognized the needs of the non-Muslim population in Arabia. We can say all the right things about Islam, however we can't expect everyone to believe. If the Saudis do not want any other religion besides Islam to be practiced then why do they hypocritically import slaves from Nepal, India, Philippines?

For some it might not be just the mere presence of non-Muslims, who do have prayer sessions held in their homes, but the fact that Christian missionaries are not allowed. For that even I could never agree to that. The history of American and European missionary work is an open secret of acting hand in glove with the foreign intelligence services. You can find some information here and here.

However it should be noted that most of the Christians in KSA are the poorest of the poor, and they need to have a connection with God that they are familiar with. On the other hand, some of these racist rich American and European Christians need to be sent back home like last week never to return. They made enough money off of Saudis only to see them with hatred and disdain ever step of the way. I think you know exactly what I mean.

Muslim said...

the only religion that belong in KSA is ISLAM period.

Average Joe Body Builder said...

@ Muslim

Please don't violate the sunnah of rasullallah.

The Mubahila

At this reply of the Holy Prophet, the Christians priests felt stranded, but to keep up appearances, they desired that a Mubahila be held. The Christians named five priests who were to take part in the Mubahila. The Holy Prophet nominated five persons who were to take part in the Mubahila on behalf of the Muslims. These included the Holy Prophet himself, Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husain. The Holy Prophet did not dominate any of his wives in this behalf. The nomination was confined to such persons who had blood relation with him. The Holy Prophet declared that the Mubahila would be held the following day. At night, the Christians could get no sleep. They felt that truth shone in the eyes of the Holy Prophet and to invoke the curse of God with people like these would invite destruction for the Christians. The following day when the Christian priests waited on the Holy Prophet, they said that they had neither the conviction to profess Islam, nor the strength to enter into any disputation or fight with the Muslims. They said that while maintaining their own faith, they would accept the dominance of the Muslims and pay an annual tribute. The Holy Prophet accepted the offer, entered into a treaty with them, and allowed them to return to Najran.