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 harmony.

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 world.

“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 Vatican.

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 2007.

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.