Remember that unexpected comment that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah made in March that he wanted to hold an inter-faith dialogue with Christians and Jews? The Vatican welcomed it and the Tel Aviv newspaper Yedioth Ahronot reported that Saudi muftis were sending out feelers to Israeli rabbis about attending such talks, a report which was swiftly denied in Riyadh.
FaithWorld’s take on it at the time was sceptical. As Andrew Hammond in Riyadh wrote: “The king is seen in Saudi Arabia as a reformer but one who has been outmaneuvered by the powerful religious establishment and their allies in the royal family. The interfaith conference call may be a kind of trial balloon launched to see what kind of reaction it gets in a country where liberals and religious conservatives are engaged in an ideological struggle for the future of Saudi Arabia.”
The World Jewish Congress issued a statement on Monday welcoming the king’s proposal. It quoted WJC President Ronald Lauder as saying many obstacles still stood in the way but “King Abdullah’s initiative is a laudable step forward. We hope that other religious and political leaders throughout the world will be encouraged to join.” WJC Governing Board Chairman Matthew Bronfman added: “The World Jewish Congress is ready to participate in any serious inter-faith talks that are based on mutual respect.”
Another Tel Aviv newspaper, Haaretz, took this a step further today with a story saying: “Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has sent an invitation to the World Jewish Congress for an interfaith dialogue with Muslim and Christian leaders, Haaretz has learned.” Now that would be news … if it were confirmed. But the WJC promptly denied the report, saying it had not received anything. The positive statement was issued now because the WJC steering committee just held its first meeting since Abdullah’s proposal and discussed it there.
The idea that Saudi Arabia would invite Christians and Jews to Islam’s heartland for “conferences between the religions to protect humanity from folly,” as Abdullah put it, is clearly too tempting for the Tel Aviv newspapers to ignore. But is it realistic to expect the Saudis to host such talks? Let us know what you think.