Ari Alexander is guest blogging (via Blackberry) from the World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid, organized by the Muslim World League under the patronage of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
Here’s an example of the kind of thing I learned here that I wouldn’t have otherwise known.
King Abdullah, as custodian of the two holiest places in Islam, Mecca and Medina, is not imbued with religious significance in and of himself. Yes, he is king of the land that hosts these two places that are holy to all Muslims. But no, his convening this conference does not have religious significance in the sense of a world religious leader making a historic religious move.
In other words, the comparison to Vatican II suggested by some western press sources is probably misleading.
At the same time, the fact that he initiated this dialogue removes one significant obstacle that had stood in the way of the global muslim community in pursuing interfaith dialogue.
You should also know that this event is being covered by the arab (and the spanish) press at a totally different level than the general western press. The biggest pan-arab dailies such as al-hayat and asharq al-awsat, have photos and stories on the front page every day about the conference.
While the conference has generally steered clear of politics (with the exception of the fascinating exchange between 6 Muslim and Jewish leaders about Israel/Palestine during the Q & A of one of yesterday’s sessions), the interest in the arab media is likely related to analysis about the political ramifications of King Abdullah’s initiative.
Similarly, the Pakistani television reporter who interviewed me was clearly MOST interested in the potential of this gathering to impact Pakistani-Israeli relations. For him, King Abdullah’s overture to Jewish leaders led him to consider the possibility that countries, his specifically, in the Muslim world, might face a faster track to diplomatic ties and even normalization with the Jewish state.
Jews and certainly mainstream Jewish organizations, tend to care passionately about Israel. And the trend of interfaith dialogue has developed in a world with Israel. This often leads to Jews beginning ‘interfaith’ dialogue with Muslims far from a conversation about ‘faith’.