07/16/2008, 00.00
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Inter-religious conference in Madrid wanted by Saudi King Abdallah

Card. Tauran attends. The meeting aims to highlight dialogue and collaboration between the religions in society, improving the image of Islam. Buddhists, Hindus and Shiites also present. Expectations for glimmers religious freedom in Saudi Arabia.

Madrid (AsiaNews) – A World Conference for Dialogue opens today in Madrid running until July 18th, with over 200 participants, experts from the diverse religions.  The encounter is being organised by the World Islamic League, an organisation based in Mecca – with the support of the Saudi King Abdallah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, who opened the working sessions today.

For some years now the Saudi King has been pushing the Islamic world to increased openness towards other religions – including Judaism – to counter the closed and violent image generated in the public mind in the aftermath of the September 2001 attack on the Twin Towers and other series of terrorist attacks attributed to Muslims.

Last November King Abdallah also visited Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican.

Invited experts with speak – behind closed doors – on issues such as dialogue, the life of the human community, International collaboration, human rights, questions linked to ecology, security, peace and coexistence in the world.

Among those asked to attend is Card. Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.  In an interview with the Vatican daily newspaper, Osservatore Romano, card. Tauran described the conference as a «courageous initiative» on King Abdallah’s part, which «answers the desire expressed on many occasions by Pope Benedict XVI himself».

It should be underlined that this Madrid encounter does not include dialogue on “religious” issues, but one that has a common basis to seek collaboration for the good of society, including the fight against terrorism.

 What’s new is the presence at the Madrid meeting of Shiites, representatives from outside the three monotheistic religions (Buddhists, Hindus etc..) which are often despised by the Wahabi Islam widespread in Saudi Arabia.

A communiqué will be released at the end of the conference.  Various observers are hoping for a glimmer of respect for religious freedom in Saudi Arabia itself. In the Saudi Kingdom the only religion allowed is Islam. The others are forbidden by law and their faithful punishable, even if they practise their faith in secret.



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