Archive for June 8th, 2008

Although CHUP generally focuses its coverage on topics directly related to Pakistan, a recent conference in Saudi Arabia is noteworthy and holds tremendous significance for issues currently facing the overarching “Muslim World.” This past Wednesday, Saudi’s King Abdullah announced the beginning of a three-day gathering of about 500 Muslim scholars and delegates, the first step of a plan to create a dialogue with other faiths. According to the Arab Times,

The king’s call, which followed a meeting with Pope Benedict at the Vatican last year, sparked much interest from Jewish and Christian groups around the world. The Mecca meeting recommended ‘conferences, forums and discussion groups between the followers of the prophetic messages, and relevant civilizations, cultures and philosophies to which academics, media and religious leaders will be invited…’

The king, whose country is mainly Sunni, told reporters Wednesday that extremists were exploiting the tolerant nature of Islam. BBC News noted, “As well as extremism, delegates hope to tackle what is seen as the negative perception of Islam in the West.” Dawn newspaper reported that Abdullah entered the hall to address the gathering with former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a move that “appeared to give a clear message to the world that despite differences the Muslim world was united on most issues confronting the Ummah.” BBC Arab affairs analyst Magdi Abdelhadi noted the meeting is supposed to be the Saudi answer to the controversial “clash of civilizations” thesis of U.S. academic Samuel Huntington. The news agency added, “Muslim writers often cite Prof. Huntington’s ideas as evidence of Western hostility to Islam in particular.”

The fact that King Abdullah entered the meeting alongside a prominent Iranian politician was a strategic gesture, meant to symbolize that the predominately Sunni country was now in agreement with moderate Shi’as like Rafsanjani. The Arab Times added, “Although the official religious establishment is on board for the king’s interfaith effort, many Wahhabi clerics remain opposed even to talking to Shia Muslims.” Nevertheless, Rafsanjani told reporters that Saudi Arabia “presented a great message to all humanity in the world.” In fact, virtually all the delegates, noted media outlets, praised the king for his initiative. Dawn also quoted Rafsanjani, who called for greater Sunni-Shia understanding, noting, “Before we speak with other religions, we must speak among ourselves and reach an understanding on a particular Islamic path.”

This conference, although not widely covered by news agencies, is significant for the overarching debate that is occurring within Islam. Initiatives like these are symbolic because they represent efforts to marginalize extremism, distance moderate Islam from a rhetoric that promotes violence and intolerance, and change negative perceptions of Islam in the West. Given the rising problem of extremism in Pakistan, such a debate is both necessary and timely. [Image from BBC News]

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