A changed perspective

No matter what the critics say about the Saudi monarchy being a hurdle in improving interfaith relations, the recently concluded Makkah Conference organised by Rabita Alam-i-Islami provided a window of opportunity to Muslim scholars to shape the changing global landscape by developing a mechanism for dialogue and exchange of ideas with other faiths. There was a valid objection that in the absence of non-Muslim dialogue partners the conference turned out to be more of a monologue by a select group of Muslim scholars and leaders talking to themselves. But the fact remains that it was a preparation for an interfaith dialogue to be held later this year. The call for a meeting of Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars coming from Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz was widely hailed as a sincere effort on his part to defuse tension among the followers of different faiths. Rabita's Secretary General Dr Abdullah Abdul Mohsin Al-Turki rightly observed that interfaith dialogue could provide an opportunity to the Muslim world to introduce the values of Islamic culture, neutralise the growing Islamophobia and discredit the notion of "clash of civilisation" in order to pave the way for peaceful co-existence between Muslims and other communities. The King thought it was time to discuss ways and means to counter challenges of rigidity, ignorance and narrow mindedness so as to make other faiths understand the true message of our religion and its potential to solve problems facing the world. Those who blame the Saudi Wahabism for being fiercely intolerant of other faiths need to be receptive to the impassioned calls for peace and interfaith solidarity coming from Al-Safa Palace, more so, to King Abdullah's inaugural address at the three-day International Interfaith Dialogue Conference during which he emphasised: "We are the voice of just coexistence, the voice of wisdom...and our hearts are full of tolerance and love that the Creator has ordered us to maintain." There's little reason to view his observation with scepticism especially when he calls upon the Muslim world to argue with other faiths peaceably. The whole purpose of the Makkah Conference was to bring together Muslim scholars representing different schools of thought to hold dialogue among themselves before interacting with the followers of other religions. Intrafaith dialogue doubtless is as crucial as interfaith dialogue. There were a few among the participants who believed there was no point in holding dialogue with other faiths when there had been so much of negative stereotyping of Muslims and Islam by the western media and its policymaking apparatus. The most vocal among them were former Iranian President Akbar Hashmi Rafsanjani and eminent scholar from Qatar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. Both of them launched scathing attack against the Zionists perpetrating crime against humanity and those nurturing the spirit of crusade. But even the critics underscored the need for rectifying the image of Muslims damaged by the wave of suicide bombings and resurgence of terrorism. The Makkah Conference was held at a time when some western scholars have completed their research and are also planning an additional study to prove that terrorism is not monolithic as is often characterised by their media and policymakers. The research also reveals that madrassas and religious schools have little to do with making terrorists of ordinary, simple people and spread of religious extremism. This thinking has yet to permeate the western policymaking circles which keep linking Islam and its followers to so-called "terrorism" without realising that the menace could be obliterated only by eliminating its root causes. The Bush Administration's obsession with Middle-East Peace Plan notwithstanding, the naked Israeli aggression, which has left thousands of Palestinians, including women and children, dead shows no sign of abating. Peace would remain elusive to the world until the combative White House stops patronising Zionist brutalities and reviews its policy of invading sovereign states and massacring their citizens ostensibly to bring democracies to these lands. The wide publicity given to the royal reception accorded to Mr Rafsanjani despite his implicit rejection of the concept of interfaith dialogue might well be an attempt to counter the campaign, also reportedly being supported by leading Saudi ulema, blaming the monarchy for playing second fiddle to the Bush Administration. The warmth displayed by King Abdullah for Mr Rafsanjani when he returned to his seat after blasting the Americans and Jews was expressive of his intrinsic feelings. But his gesture might have ruffled many feathers within the royal family causing disappointment to those advocating "a balanced approach" in dealing with the West. The Makkah Conference will, however, be seen as a great initiative undertaken by the Custodian of the two holy mosques to bring together a galaxy of Muslim scholars from across the world to debate how to prepare themselves for holding dialogue with the followers of other religions. It is now for others to reciprocate positively to promote the notion of interfaith solidarity. E-mail: sarmad@nation.com.pk

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