03/26/2008, 00.00
SAUDI ARABIA

Contradictory signals from the Saudis on interreligious dialogue

Favourable attitudes toward welcoming other religions alternate with reactions of entrenchment and dissent. King Abdullah declares openly his commitment to fostering interreligious dialogue, while last week the majority of the members of the consultative council voted against the resolution to respect other faiths.

Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) - King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz says he is open to and in favour of a dialogue among Muslims, Christians, and Jews, intended to establish peaceful coexistence among the members of different religions.

In a declaration issued by the Saudi press agency, the king affirmed: "We have lost sincerity, morals, fidelity and attachment to our religions and to humanity. The disintegration of the family and the rise of atheism in the world are frightening phenomena that all religions must confront and vanquish".

The king spoke during the sixth forum on Culture and the Respect of Religions, organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and concluded on March 24, which counted Japan among the participants, together with representatives of the Muslim world.  King Abdullah added: "I have had an idea which has obsessed me for the past two years as a result of the crisis all humanity is suffering. Such a crisis has marred and caused an imbalance of reason, ethics and humanity. For this reason, I thought" of inviting religious authorities to express their views of what is happening in the world. "We will then start, God willing, to hold meetings with our brothers in all religions".

The sovereign, who discussed his plan with the pope during his visit to the Vatican last November, is evaluating the request advanced by Benedict XVI to allow the construction of churches in the Saudi kingdom.  According to a Vatican spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, if the Church were to obtain this permission, it would be an event of historic dimensions.

In spite of the atmosphere of openness in which the forum was held, and the propensity for dialogue demonstrated by the king, last week 77 members of the consultative council voted against the UN resolution for the approval of an international agreement on respect for religion.  According to the members against the measure, the recognition of other religions is a danger to the Muslim community, which would be 'obligated' to respect them and to look helplessly upon the proliferation of places of worship in Muslim countries.

A distinct minority of the 33 members in favour say they are surprised by the outcome of the vote.  They claim that the veto was a provocation in response to the attacks against Islam on the part of Danish, Dutch, and also American cartoonists involved in the publication of caricatures of Mohammed.

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