Sunday, July 20, 2008

Religious Tolerence

One thing I do remember from my "Thanaweya 3ama" studies (actually it's the only thing I remember from the infamous high school diploma days) is a statement by an insignificant character in Taha Hussein's Al Sheikhan, a book about the first two califs in Islam, AbuBakr & Omar.

The statement was (oh my, I actually don't exactly remember how it went, so I'll improvise: "God sent religions to unite his people and to spread peace and fraternity among them, but we have managed to turn religion into just another excuse to hate and fight." (well, something like that)

I remembered this as I listened to a speech that was recently aired on TV. Here are some excerpts:
  • We all believe in one God, who sent messengers for the good of humanity in this world and the hereafter. His will, praise be to Him, was that people should differ in their faiths. If the Almighty had so desired, all mankind would have shared the same religion. We are meeting today to affirm that the religions that God Almighty desired for the happiness of man should be a means to ensure that happiness.
  • It is therefore incumbent upon us to declare to the world that difference must not lead to conflict and confrontation, and to state that the tragedies that have occurred in human history were not attributable to religion, but were the result of extremism with which some adherents of every divinely revealed religion, and of every political ideology, have been afflicted.
  • There is no solution for us other than to agree on a united approach, through dialogue among religions and civilizations.
  • Man could be the cause of the destruction of this planet and everything in it. He is also capable of turning it into an oasis of peace and tranquility in which adherents of religions, creeds and philosophies could co-exist, and in which people could cooperate with each other in a respectful manner, and address problems through dialogue rather than violence.
  • Man is also capable – by the grace of God – of vanquishing hatred through love, and bigotry through tolerance, thereby enabling all mankind to enjoy the dignity that the Almighty has bestowed upon all of them.

Impressed?? Well I was. And I was even more impressed and overwhelmed with hope and optimism because these words came from no other than the Saudi King Abdullah Ibn AbdulAziz. These excerpts are from the King's opening remarks at the World Conference on Dialogue, a three-day meeting (July 16-18) held in Madrid. The conference - a King Abdullah initiative- included Muslim, Christian, and Jewish clerics, as well as representatives of Eastern religions.

My hope and optimism stems from knowing that although some/most Muslims might not share the same views with the Saudi King, coming from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, they will definitely:
  • encourage those who share those views to be more vocal and less intimidated (there could actually be many more of us, but we don't know it since they are in hiding)
  • intimidate other Arab & Muslim leaders into voicing the same views and actually taking actions to prevent tensions and violence between followers of different sects & religions within those countries (hint hint Egyptian President)
  • impact the people in other Muslim countries since the Saudi flavor of Islam (whether we like it or not) seams to be the one that is influencing most Muslims
To read the complete speech, find more about the conference, or for interviews with the Saudi King check out the following links:
Of course there are critics of the initiative who accused the Saudis of monopolizing the debate, some observers questioned why the conference was held in Spain and not Saudi Arabia, and others who have dismissed the gathering as a propaganda gimmick by the Saudis. To everyone who feels that way and cannot see any good in the initiative I say:"SHUT UP!!" (Oh my, I forgot that we were talking about tolerance and good intension's). I do apologies for my out burst. I meant to say:"Please SHUT UP!!"

The Saudi King is taking a huge risk with this initiative. Extremists in his country and around the world have already denounced his efforts and threatened to take action against them. So for only the second time in my life, I will prey for the safety of an Arab leader (I might tell you about the first time this happened in a future post), and for the success of his initiative.

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