Saudi Arabia and Austria defend plan for interfaith dialogue centre in Vienna

October 14, 2011

(1640 map of Vienna, showing the walls that helped protect the city against the 1683 Ottoman siege/Graphische Sammlung Albertina)

Saudi Arabia has defended its plan to fund a religious dialogue centre in Vienna saying Judaism and other faiths would be represented and that it would be free from political interference. Critics of the centre say Saudi Arabia’s austere version of Sunni Islam means it is an unsuitable country to promote religious debate. Saudi Arabia does not allow other faiths to have places of worship in the kingdom and its Muslims are forbidden from converting to other religions on pain of death.

Austria and Spain will also fund the Vienna-based “King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue”, but Saudi Arabia said it was willing to stump up the lion’s share of cash if needed. “(Our) paying for the operation is to create a fund that makes the centre independent from any sort of political interference,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told a news conference in the Austrian capital on Thursday.

Asked whether the forum may help promote more religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, he said: “The centre is established exactly for the purposes of these questions that have been at the centre of differences between us. We are hoping that the centre will take the lead in (that) direction.”

Responding to criticism from a reporter from a Jewish newspaper about a lack of synagogues in the Arab kingdom, Prince Saud said there was no need for them because “there are no Jewish people in Saudi Arabia”. But he later said that the Jewish faith would be represented fairly at the Vienna project. The centre has no fixed opening date.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Vatican’s department for interfaith dialogue, welcomed the plan but said Saudi Arabia must tackle its own curbs on religious freedom. “These problems exist and they must be resolved. We are not naive,” he told official Austrian Catholic agency Kathpress in an interview, adding that faith and politics must not mix at the Vienna centre. The Holy See may seek observer status.

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Saudi just arrested a man for having a tattoo of Jesus on his arm. You cannot bring a Bible into Saudi. You cannot practice any religion othe than Islam in Saudi Arabia. They are happy to spread their religion in toher countries, yet they have no religious tolerance in their own country.

I read a great book about the Kingdom. It is called “Paramedic to the Prince”. It was written by an American who was on the medical staff of the King. The best inside look into Saudi Arabia I have ever read.

If you want to know what that country is really like. I urge you to read Paramedic to the Prince.

Posted by SAUDIMEDIC | Report as abusive

If the Saudi rulers are truthful about their intentions for interfaith dialogue, why are they banning Joseph ALORAYNI from traveling to Baptism?

Posted by Joseph2020 | Report as abusive

What a JOke, What the hell is going on? Why do western secular liberal democracies still have relations with Islamist regimes? The Immigration from countries Which DO NOT have secular governance should be stopped.

want to add, criticizing/mocking Islam is a matter of free speech and not racist. Islam is a belief system like communism/marxism/scientology. It is neither a culture nor a race.
Islam should be studied from a pro and anti source. In my opinion it is a 7th century cult which is divisive and is also violent. People who are in it don’t know it or realize it, people who escape from it (ex-muslims) hate it.
Do not be politically correct or feel shy in criticizing or debating Islam , just like you wouldn’t feel shy about debating marxism.

Posted by Secularism | Report as abusive

I think that jews and christians do want churches and sinagaugues in KSA. This Dialogue regarding religion is waste of time and money. it is not possible specially when there is no misunderstanding. Pope knows what Muslims believe and KING abdullah knows what jews and christan believe,N NO NO MISUNDERSTANDING.
Regardind social and cultural dialogue may be useful. Peace can be achieve4d only if all religions left alone on their own without intruption.

Posted by lahori1932 | Report as abusive