Saudi King Abdullah Hosting Interfaith Conference that includes Israeli Rabbi

To the chorus of people who complain that religious leaders are not doing enough to raise their voices against extremism and to improve interfaith relations and foster respect, here is an under-reported but remarkable story about a high profile conference to bring foremost Muslims, Christians and Jews togetherSee also this story.

Among the participants was Chief Rabbi David Rosen, who besides being the President of the IJCRC (the highest Jewish body charged with interfaith relations) and the AJC’s representative, is an Honorary Board member of the PeaceWorks Foundation’s OneVoice Movement – and, perhaps granting him the most moral authority – was the Rabbi who got my wife to say yes at our wedding. :-)  

Saudi-backed interfaith meeting starts

By PAUL HAVEN – 3 days ago

MADRID, Spain (AP) — King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was kicking off an interfaith conference in Madrid on Wednesday — an effort to bring Muslims, Christians and Jews closer together amid a world that often puts the three faiths at odds.

Spanish King Juan Carlos was also addressing the gathering — which the Saudis have billed as a strictly religious affair. There’s to be no mention of hot-button issues like the war in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iranian nuclear ambitions or rising oil prices.

Abdullah has made reaching out to other faiths a hallmark of his rule since taking over the oil-rich kingdom following the death of his half brother 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 in Mecca in which participants pledged improved relations between Islam’s two main branches — Sunni and Shia. At that meeting Abdullah also rejected extremism, saying that Muslims must present Islam’s "good message" to the world.

The three-day Madrid conference boasts a number of Jewish religious figures, including David Rosen, a prominent Irish-Israeli rabbi whose presence is being hailed as a sign the Saudis are serious about reaching out.

Rosen, however, is not listed as an Israeli in conference literature, prompting officials in the Jewish state to question the extent of the Saudis’ commitment.

Some other Jewish officials invited to the conference are more controversial, including Rabbi David Weiss, whose group, Neturei Karta, objects to the creation of Israel on the grounds that it violates Jewish religious law.

At a 2006 gathering in Tehran hosted by hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Weiss made headlines by saying the number of Jews said to have been killed in the Holocaust was inflated.

Weiss was at one point scheduled to address this week’s conference, but organizers said plans have changed. It was not immediately clear if Weiss would be attending the conference at all.

Monsignor Nabil Haddad, head of the Melkite Catholic community in Jordan and a participant at the conference, told The Associated Press that any event that allows the world’s main faiths to sit down together is worthwhile.

"The conference provides a rare opportunity for strengthening mutual respect between the followers of the three main religions," he said.

Detractors counter that the Saudis are the last people who should be hosting a meeting on religious tolerance.

Wahhabism — the strain of Sunni Islam that is practiced in Saudi Arabia — is considered one of the religion’s most conservative. Observers say the conference was being held in Spain partly because it would be politically unpalatable for Abdullah to allow Jewish and Christian leaders on Saudi soil.

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