Since 9/11, studying the relations between Islam and the West have become a growth field in academia. Among its leading proponents is Saudi Arabian investor Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, a billionaire who has spent tens of millions of dollars via his Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation creating study centres at leading universities, including Cambridge, Harvard and Georgetown, with the goal of fostering interfaith dialogue and understanding. (Photo: Prince Alwaleed in Kabul, 18 March 2008/Ahmad Masood)
In the wake of the Islamist attacks in Mumbai last November, the foundation’s executive director, Muna AbuSulayman said recently, the organisation is keen to set up a centre in India and also to foster dialogue between Muslims and Jews.
A Mumbai Jewish community centre was seized and its rabbi and his wife killed during those attacks, in which 179 people were killed in a days-long rampage by members of a Pakistan-based militant group. “What has happened in India with the shooting was a wake up call,” she said. “India and Pakistan have a history, there’s a reason they separated. We want to help them minimise that.”
During an interview in London, AbuSulayman, wearing a cream-coloured headscarf, talked broadly about the need for interfaith dialogue, and included Judaism in that. But she said the Alwaleed Foundation definitely wouldn’t open a centre in Israel even though it does support dialogue with Jews.
“Would we do something on Jewish studies? Most definitely. We really do separate the idea between Zionism and Judaism,” said AbuSulayman. “We do believe in this tradition of all of the Abrahamic religions being together.”