Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bridge for Sale: Saudi king calls for interfaith dialogue

Abdullah said: "With God's help we will meet our brethren from other religions, including those who believe in the Torah and in the Gospel, in order to find ways to defend humanity."

For lack of information, many people will look upon that statement and say, "Oh, how nice." The first question one should ask, however, is whether Abdullah is speaking of the Torah as it is understood and used by Jews today and in generations past, and of the Gospel as it is understood and used by Christians today and in generations past. Or, does he really mean the Taurat and Injil of which the Qur'an speaks -- Ur-Torah and Ur-Gospel books that preached Islamic monotheism before allegedly being corrupted by later generations?Then, is this proposed "dialogue" to be with Judaism and Christianity as they are, or with the assumption that Jews and Christians, having corrupted their holy books, aren't even true Jews and Christians from an Islamic perspective? Moreover, what of the supersessionist attitude that Islam corrects, completes, and therefore overshadows Judaism and Christianity?

This issue -- "my" Torah or "your" Torah? "my" Gospel or "your" Gospel? -- and the resulting obfuscation and confusion partially underlies the frequent canard of "common values" on which interfaith discussions often proceed, and which Abdullah is again employing here. Yes, giving to charity is nice. Prayer is really nice, and believers tend to agree that God is great. But it's the differences that have a bearing on how a society functions, and they are the source of incompatibility between Islamic cultures and those with a Judeo-Christian basis: What is the nature of the deity? (And what does that deity have to say about any number of topics?) What is the nature of man's relationship to the deity, and to the rest of the human race? And what of the interaction of men and women? Believers and non-believers? What about revenge?

Civilized societies agree to disagree on differences of opinion that concern faith. The problem here is the imperative that Islam dominate and not be dominated, and Abdullah is indeed using the notion of "common values" to advance a very particular agenda: He calls it "respect among the religions." Once again, the uninformed reader might think that sounds wonderful. But we have already seen on many occasions that Islamic law is reciprocity-impaired when it comes to respect. It is not "respect" in the general sense; rather, Islam is to be respected, and will deal with other faiths according to what it believes is the divinely-ordained order of things (i.e., dhimmitude).

"Abdullah wants interfaith conference," from the Jerusalem Post:

Saudi King Abdullah's desire to convene a meeting between Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious communities was reported Tuesday by the official Saudi Arabian News Agency.

"I invite representatives of all the monotheistic religions to meet with their brothers in faith," the king was quoted as saying. The theme of the expected conference was reported to be "respect among the religions."

The news agency reported that senior Muslim leaders authorized the idea and consultations would be made with Islamic religious authorities from other countries. The king went on to say that "with God's help we will meet our brethren from other religions, including those who believe in the Torah and in the Gospel, in order to find ways to defend humanity."

This, he said, comes after humanity has lost its morality, sincerity and steadfastness. Also, the religions were confronted by challenges such as dealing with the disintegration of the family and ever-expanding Atheism, he said.

King Abdullah revealed that he had been preparing the convention for two years and discussed it with the Pope when he visited the Vatican a year ago. Abdullah has not determined a specific date for the meeting.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger expressed his satisfaction over the announcement. "Our hands are extended to any peace initiative and to any dialogue that will bring about an end to terrorism and violence," he said in a statement. "I have said on numerous occasions that the true path to the peace that we long for is through interfaith dialogue."

More from "Saudi King calls for interfaith dialogue," by Donna Abu-Nasr and Abdullah Shihri for the Associated Press:

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - The Saudi king has made an impassioned plea for dialogue among Muslims, Christians and Jews — the first such proposal from a nation with no diplomatic ties to Israel and a ban on non-Muslim religious services and symbols.

The message from King Abdullah, which was welcomed by Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders, comes at a time of stalled peace initiatives and escalating tensions in the region.

Muslims have been angered by cartoons published in European papers seen as insulting the Prophet Muhammad and by the pope's baptizing on Easter of a Muslim journalist who had converted to Catholicism.

"The idea is to ask representatives of all monotheistic religions to sit together with their brothers in faith and sincerity to all religions as we all believe in the same God," the king told delegates Monday night at a seminar on "Culture and the Respect of Religions." [...]

The White House welcomed the king's gesture.

"We think increased dialogue is a really good thing," presidential spokeswoman Dana Perino said Tuesday. "And, of course, when you have someone like the king of Saudi Arabia, and all of his stature, that is recommending such a dialogue, it can only give us hope that there would be further recognition of everyone's right to freedom and freedom of expression and religion. So we are encouraged by it."

Abdullah said he planned to hold conferences to get the opinion of Muslims from other parts of the world, and then meetings with "our brothers" in Christianity and Judaism "so we can agree on something that guarantees the preservation of humanity against those who tamper with ethics, family systems and honesty."

Abdullah, who said he discussed the idea with Pope Benedict XVI when they met at the Vatican in November, framed his appeal in strictly religious and ethical terms, aimed at addressing the weakening of the family, increasing atheism and "a lack of ethics, loyalty, and sincerity for our religions and humanity."

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