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Pacik Rin/AP
King Abdullah

Saudi Leaders Hope To Boost Religious Tolerance

July 08, 2008 05:43 PM
by Cara McDonough
King Abdullah has planned a multireligion meeting in Madrid to improve Islam’s world image and increase respect for different religious values.

30-Second Summary

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Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, is home to an extreme version of the faith, sometimes known as Wahhabism, which bans the practice of other religions in the kingdom.

But it’s an image the country has been trying to change, especially since experiencing terrorist attacks in 2003 and 2004. “Abdullah and other officials have been stressing a more moderate, tolerant expression of their faith,” reports the Christian Science Monitor.

The three-day meeting, scheduled to begin July 16, is designed to further that goal. Muslim, Christian, and Jewish clerics, as well as representatives of Eastern religions, will take part in running the program, which will focus on “how to preserve morality,” according to Hassan Al Ahdal, media director at the Mecca-based Muslim World League, the group organizing the event.

The meeting is the first of its kind for a Saudi-Arabian leader and has not been without complications. Due to religious hostility in Saudi Arabia, it would have been difficult to hold the conference there, although officials said they chose Spain because of its historical symbolism as a place where Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived under Islamic rule in centuries past.

Representation of the Jewish faith at the meeting was also of deep concern, as Saudi Arabia, like many Arab countries, does not recognize Judaism. Many Jewish organizations, however, have welcomed Abdullah’s idea.

Rabbi David Rosen, director of the American Jewish Committee’s international interreligious affairs, said he hopes the conference will be “an opportunity to break down … stereotypes, suspicion, and bigotry.”

Headline Links: ‘Saudi King Set To Lead Rare Interfaith Talks in Spain’

Related Topic: Religious and political strife in Turkey

Reference: Religion guides

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