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‘A Common Word’ in the News

The UN Interfaith Dialogue

Those who are smirking about President Gloria Arroyo’s attendance
of the Special United Nations General Assembly on Interfaith
Dialogue to discuss the “Culture of Peace” should realize the
event’s importance.

The Philippines is the first country to endorse
this worthy undertaking to the United Nations after it was started
by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, who has
been at the forefront of efforts to promote global peace and

The Philippines itself has been holding
interfaith dialogues. It has successfully urged other Asean
countries to do so as a means to promote peace and understanding.

King Abdullah is of course pleased that the
project that he initiated in Madrid has now been picked up by the
United Nations. For two days, the UN General Assembly will
concentrate—we hope the believers among them will pray—on
friendship, brotherhood, cooperation and genuine respect for the
dignity of fellowmen (and women) even if they do not belong to the
same religion.

The Saudi king himself acknowledges that the
holding of interfaith dialogues is not his own idea and that it is
in fact not new. Many similar dialogues have been held before. What
makes the Saudi initiative needful in our time is that it also
encourages other Muslim and Arab countries to believe in it, to join
in the process of being one in attempting to get to know and
understand other people without being repelled by the thought that
they are Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, animists or some other
kind of “infidel.”

Faisal bin Muammar is the secretary-general of
the King Abdul Aziz National Dialogue Center. While addressing the
Russia-Islamic World Strategic Vision Group at the Jeddah Conference
Palace, he said of this first UN General Assembly special session
for the Interfaith Dialogue: “This is an international achievement
for Saudi Arabia and for those who work for promoting dialogue
between various religious faiths and ideologies.”

Call for religious tolerance

King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz has been calling on
Muslims to exercise religious tolerance, telling them that attending
dialogue for peace and harmony such as those organized by his
Interfaith Dialogue Initiative is the duty of every human being.

The King has also been urging fellow Muslims to
reach out to non-Muslims as a way to show that Islam is not a
violent religion. That is what he has been doing and his attendance
of the UN General Assembly special dialogue will once more show that
he wishes to give an example by deeds.

He also said that this UN dialogue “comes at a
time when the world is criticizing Islam.” He added, “It is
regrettable that some of our sons have been tempted by Satan or
brothers of Satan,” obviously referring to Islamist militants who
have carried out terrorist attacks against nonMuslims around the

“Nothing can purify [Islam’s reputation],”
said King Abdullah, “except for the extension of Muslims’ hands
to their brothers in other religions.”

King Abdullah has not just taken a leading role
in bringing adherents of different sects and religions together. He
has also in the past few years taken steps to encourage dialogue
between his kingdom’s Sunni majority and Shiite minority.

Among the world leaders attending the UN General
Assembly meeting today and tomorrow (November 12 to 13) is
Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari. Troubled by violent
Islamists and parts of it said to be held by allies giving comfort
and shelter to Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda officers, Pakistan
formally supports efforts to promote global peace and harmony among
people of diverse faith and culture.

Pakistan, a Muslim majority country, has
expressed its full support for the Saudi king’s initiative “for
inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue to promote peace,
understanding, and tolerance” among human beings and respect for
their diverse religious, cultural and linguistic identities.

Perhaps President Zardari, whose aide have
announced that he would also hold bilateral meetings with heads of
states attending the session, will have a meeting with our
president. Pakistan and the Philippines have many reasons to be
closer in trade and diplomacy than they are now.

First Catholic-Muslim Forum

One of the offshoots of the Saudi initiative is
last week’s first-ever Catholic-Muslim Forum sponsored by the

Participants in that forum were received in
audience by Pope Benedict XVI, who told them “Catholics and
Muslims must show the common belief that we are members of one
family loved by God our Creator, and uphold the dignity of every
human person.”

The forum was attended by 29 members of each
creed. It was organized by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious
Dialogue and representatives of the 138 Muslim leaders who sent an
open letter to Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders in October

The Pope assured the participants of his
prayerful attention to the progress of the seminar. He expressed the
awareness “that it represents one more step along the way towards
greater understanding between Muslims and Christians within the
framework of other regular encounters which the Holy See promotes
with various Muslim groups.”

Benedict XVI acknowledged the recent increase in
dialogue, initiatives and meetings between Catholic and Muslim
groups, and expressed the hope that the First Catholic-Muslim Forum
would motivate all involved to pass on its positive reflections on
love to all people in order to effectively change their daily lives.