- "'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.'
Abdullah's call is significant and could add weight to sporadic efforts at dialogue among religious leaders in recent years. The Saudi monarch is the custodian of Islam's two holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina, a position that lends his words special importance and influence among many Muslims. He said Saudi Arabia's top clerics have given him the green light to the idea — crucial backing in a society which expects decisions taken by its rulers to adhere to Islam's tenets.
For some, it also raised the possibility that a religious dialogue could have a political impact in the Middle East, easing tensions between Arabs and Israelis in a way that years of off-and-on negotiations and political conferences have failed to do.
'Religion is all too often the problem, so it has to also be the solution, or at least part of the solution and I think that the tragedy of the political initiatives to bring peace has been the failure to include the religious dimension,' Rabbi David Rosen, head of inter-religious relations at the American Jewish Committee and former chief rabbi of Ireland, said, adding that he was 'delighted' by Abdullah's call.
Abdullah 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.'
A Saudi official with knowledge of the proposal said it was not intended to have a regional political angle, saying 'the initiative is not aimed at the Middle East but at the whole world. It's a global initiative.' The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the proposal."
Saudi Arabia continually is under heavy criticism for not respecting the rights of other religions, so it's debatable whether the move was window dressing or that anything substantial would come out of talks. After all, the parties that draw the Mideast conflict along religious lines are unlikely to abandon their faith-based positions among some sheikh moderators.
The talks, if they come off as the king seems to intend, are also likely to increase the wrath of al-Qaida -- which has recruited many members from Saudi Arabia, but is a group branded "deviants" by the House of Saud.