At a time when our planet is beset with conflict, racism and bigotry, Saudi Arabia’s recent furtherance of understanding was inspirational.
I, for one, have nothing but praise for ’s and the message he delivered on behalf of Muslims everywhere last July: Instead of fighting each other, religions should come together to fight common problems, he told up to 250 representatives of the world’s greatest faiths hailing from 54 countries.
On ’s initiative, the Muslim World League organised a historic global conference, which was held in Madrid – selected because in this great city, Muslims, Christians and Jews once lived side-by-side in peace, friendship and harmony.
“We all believe in one God,” affirmed the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, , during his speech inaugurating the meeting, which took place at the 16th century Palacio de el Pardo. “We are meeting here today to say that religions should be a means to iron out differences and not to lead to disputes”.
To this end, he called for “constructive dialogue” to combat such problems as; terrorism, racism, crime, drugs, exploitation of the weak, and the breakdown of family life caused by the spiritual void experienced by those who forget God. “To succeed we must emphasise the common link between us, which is a belief in God”, he said.
has shown great courage and wisdom in reaching out to people of other faiths on behalf of Muslims everywhere. For three days, Muslims, Christians, Jews and others, listened to each others’ points of view, engaged in lively discussion, agreed and disagreed in an environment conducive to a healthy exchange of ideas.
The conference turned out to be a huge success, considered by many to be the first step along a new path towards mutual understanding. The head of the World Jewish Congress characterised it as “a significant and timely development” to “restore ethical values” and avert a “clash of civilizations”. The Vatican described it as “an act of great courage”.
At the end of three-days, delegates agreed on certain resolutions such as; the importance of an international agreement defining terrorism - addressing its root causes, and achieving justice and stability in the world.
Another resolution asks governments to prohibit acts of blasphemy and to encourage respect for religious beliefs.
A third stressed that the family is the nucleus of any secure and stable society and, as such, it must be protected from disintegration.
The above are surely the conclusions that any decent person with a spark of goodness would reach upon reflection, regardless of his nationality, colour or religion.
Good people everywhere want the same things: shelter, sustenance, security, family, friendship and success. They share the same values and ethics; the same daily struggles; the same goals.
Despite this, we too easily slap labels on people or categorise them at first sight in convenient little boxes marked ’Sunni’, ’Shiite’, ’Jewish’, ’Protestant’ or ’Catholic’. We fail to see who they really are as unique human beings, whose love of the Creator is their common bond.
As a Muslim, I was taught to respect the three great monotheistic faiths, which were all born in this blessed region. And, as a citizen of the UAE, I know firsthand that people from every corner of the earth can live together without religious or racial friction, no matter what religion they profess.
Interfaith exchanges, such as the Madrid conference, remove the superficial barriers that separate us and the clouds of ignorance that drive us apart. I am proud that the idea for the first conference was conceived by Saudi Arabia, proving to the world that Muslims welcome interaction with people of other religions.
Throughout centuries darkened by wars, religion has often been blamed for conflict. But in reality, all religions are at their core peaceful. Violence is carried out by people, who use – or rather distort – religion for their own ends. Conferences such as this illuminate religion as a universal force for good that, despite our differences, can ultimately bring us together.
Bishop Pincentti, who represented Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox church at the gathering, likened the conference to “an invitation of love from of Saudi Arabia”. I couldn’t agree more. He has shown us the way. Now it is up to us, all of us, to follow his enlightened lead.