BUREAU OF DEMOCRACY, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND LABOR
International Religious Freedom Report 2010
November 17, 2010
The Annual Report
International interfaith initiatives are growing in many parts of the world, and the Middle East region in particular has seen a growing interest in intrafaith and interfaith dialogue. There have been repeated calls for the promotion of tolerance, dialogue, and coexistence, resulting in joint efforts both within and beyond the region. The Doha Conference on Interfaith Dialogue has convened annually in Qatar since 2002. Jordanian King Abdullah’s “Amman Message” of 2004 has promoted a number of interfaith conferences and activities and was an important precursor to further efforts. In Saudi Arabia, the Muslim World League held an intrafaith conference for Muslims, which was followed by the July 2008 Interfaith Conference in Madrid, and then by Saudi King Abdullah’s Interfaith Dialogue Initiative in November 2008 at the United Nations.
The October 2007 release of a 21-page letter organized by Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad and signed by 138 Muslim leaders from around the world formed the basis for several ongoing initiatives. The letter was addressed to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders after the pope’s controversial Regensburg speech of September 2006 and in effect articulated for the first time a consensus among widely diverse (but not all) members of the Muslim community. The Vatican responded publicly in late November 2007, and in the spring of 2008 Muslims and Christians, primarily Roman Catholics, met to begin a dialogue based on the letter’s recognition of their scriptural elements. The first Catholic-Muslim Forum met formally in November 2008. In the meantime, Yale Divinity School organized a three-page reply signed by 300 Christian scholars and leaders representing scores of denominations and institutions. The archbishop of Canterbury and others also issued separate personal responses.
The Vatican has also been involved in the Mecca-based World Muslim League initiative discussed above and in an ongoing dialogue with Shi’a, mostly Iranians. The Holy See has taken a leading role in recent engagement with Islam, accompanied by growing interest from diverse religious groups and regions.
Muslims engaged in dialogue with the Holy See seek greater respect for Islam, particularly in the West, and wish to emphasize that Islam is a religion of peace and disassociate it from violence. The Holy See favors a dialogue that will lead to greater religious freedom and tolerance for differences. In the letter exchange between Prince Ghazi and the Vatican, analysts have noted references from both sides to longstanding areas of concern, such as respect for the dignity of every human person and respect for religious freedom, often expressed in terms of “reciprocity.” Other areas of concern include educating the public on the essential elements of both religions, sharing religious experience, and promoting mutual respect instead of violence, especially among the young.
We are encouraged by this growing recognition by governments and religious leaders that freedom and respectful religious coexistence are critical to our shared future. We look forward to broadening these conversations to include the full diversity of faith traditions and to build a world in which all are free to choose and practice their faith and live according to their conscience.