A proposal for religious dialogue presented by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has prompted warm reactions from several Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders in what could be a major development in inter-religious relations, the Associated Press reports.
"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," King Abdullah said Monday night at a Riyadh seminar on "Culture and the Respect of Religions."
King Abdullah said he presented the idea to Pope Benedict XVI when he visited the Vatican in November of last year. Saying the Pope had “warmly welcomed” him in “a meeting of a human to a human which I would never forget,” the king said he aimed “to seek the consent of Allah according to what he ordered in the religions: the Torah, Bible and Quran.”
“I pray for Allah to let us meet on one word,” the king said, according to a statement published on the website of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The king said he planned to hold conferences to learn the opinion of Muslims from other parts of the world, after which he would meet 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."
Specifics of the proposal remained unclear, such as whether Israelis could take part in the initiative and whether restrictions on religious freedom in Saudi Arabia could be relaxed. The kingdom bans non-Muslim worship services and objects of veneration from other religions, including crosses and Bibles.
Under Saudi law, the conversion of a Muslim to another religion is punishable by death.
King Abdullah’s initiative comes at a time when peace negotiations have stalled and tensions have heightened in the Middle East. Muslims have been angered by cartoons published in Europe that insult the Prophet Muhammad. Pope Benedict’s recent baptism of a prominent Muslim convert has also generated controversy.
However, King Abdullah reportedly had the crucial approval of top Saudi Arabian clerics.
Some analysts have suggested the king’s proposal has resulted from increased inter-religious dialogue among world religious leaders since the terrorist attacks of September 11.
John Esposito, founding director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, said that the Saudi religious establishment has been very active in interreligious dialogue since the September attacks, according to the Associated Press.
Esposito said this kind of appeal from the king is especially significant.