06/05/2008, 00.00
SAUDI ARABIA
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King Abdullah: we must also dialogue with those who do not love Islam

A conference on interreligious dialogue has opened in Mecca. Almost 600 representatives from all over the Muslim world are participating. The intention is to overcome internal differences in order to present to the world the true face of Islam: tolerant, moral, and just.

Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Dialoguing also with those who do not love Islam: this was the key point in Saudi king Abdullah's opening address in Mecca for the first international congress on dialogue with Christians and Jews.  Organised by the Muslim World League, the meeting has gathered about 600 representatives of the Muslim world for an "internal" reflection, preparatory to dialogue with other faiths.  The participants include former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a Shiite, who also had a private meeting with the king.

The conference appears to be part of the efforts by king Abdullah - head of an ultra-conservative country that is accused of denying any form of religious liberty - to push Saudi Arabia toward reforms, however limited.  "You meet today", the king affirmed "to tell the world ... that we are the voice of justice and moral human values and the voice of coexistence as well as just and reasonable dialogue".  Among the "challenges" facing the Islamic world today, Abdullah also mentioned "those extremists among [our] own people" who "have joined forces in a flagrant aggressiveness to distort the ... rightfulness and tolerance of Islam".

For his part, Rafsanjani focused on the need for the Muslim world to seek its own unity. "I am a Shiite", he said, "and I have spent all my life studying Islam. And let me tell you here that we (Shias and Sunnis) have 95 percent in common. Why should we then allow the difference of five percent to let our enemies play havoc with?".

This sentiment was echoed by one of the leading representatives of the Sunni cultural world, sheikh Sayyid Tantawi of Al-Azhar University, according to whom the conference "offers a new channel to strengthen cooperation among Muslims. It is essential", he continued, "to reduce differences and promote understanding".

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