It’s a shame that the international community overlooks the egregious human rights violations of the Saudi Kingdom including the most basic right of freedom of religion. Now you have them being recognized for their steadfastness in “interfaith dialogue”.
Rabbi David Rosen, the only Israeli who attended the three-day meeting led by Saudi King Abdullah, said he believes the oil-rich Persian Gulf kingdom also wants to reaffirm leadership in the Muslim world for fear of greater instability.
“The Saudis are definitely opening up,” said Rosen, who heads inter-religious relations for the American Jewish Committee and is a former chief rabbi of Ireland. “I have heard from the Saudis that this is a culmination of a process that began the moment Abdullah ascended to the throne and that he actually wants to open up Saudi society.”
The Saudi monarch unexpectedly called the conference about a month ago. It brought together Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists among other religions and was hosted by Spain. The meeting ended on Friday.
Critics said the Saudis were the last people who should be leading a conference on religious dialogue given that Wahhabism—the austere strain of Sunni Islam practiced in the kingdom—is considered one of the religion’s most conservative. Many believe the conference was held in Spain partly because it would be politically unpalatable for Abdullah to allow Jewish and Christian leaders on Saudi soil.
However, Abdullah has made reaching out to other faiths a hallmark of his rule since taking over the country in 2005. He met with Pope Benedict XVI late last year, the first meeting ever between a pope and a reigning Saudi king.
And in June, Abdullah held a religious conference at home in Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. At that meeting, participants pledged improved relations between Islam’s two main branches, Sunni and Shiite, and Abdullah also rejected extremism, saying Muslims must present Islam’s “good message” to the world.