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Articles
Geneva Conference calls for setting up an International Dialogue Centre

Dr. Mozammel Haque

The Geneva Interfaith Conference affirmed its support for the establishment of an international dialogue centre that would pursue the Kng Abdullah’s historic initiative at the conclusion of the Two-day International conference on Interfaith dialogue, organised by the Makkah-based Muslim World League (MWL), held at the Inter.Continental Hotel in Geneva, Switzerland, from 30 September to 1st October, 2009.

The main theme of the conference was ‘The Impact of King Abdullah’s Inter-Religious Dialogue Initiative in Disseminating Human Values’. Other topics for discussion in the conference were: King Abdullah’s Initiative and the Scope of Coexistence Among the Various Civilisations; the Role of Religion and Culture in Promoting Dialogue; the Impact of Religious Values in Reforming Societies; and the Role of Media in Strengthening Dialogue and Human Values.

The conference, organised by Muslim World League, was opened in Geneva on Wednesday, 30th of September 2009 under the patronage of Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz and was participated by 150 religious and academic figures representing different religions and cultures from nearly 40 countries, including the US, the UK, China, Italy, India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Japan and the Philippines. Among them, besides others, were Bandar Al-Eiban, President of the Human Rights Commission in Saudi Arabia; William Baker, President of Christians and Muslims for Peace in the US; Rev. Xue Cheng, Vice Chairman of Buddhist Association of China; Faisal bin Muammar, Saudi Deputy Minister of Education; Sri Ravi Shankar, a renowned scholar on Hinduism; and Mohammad Ali Al-Taskhiri, General-Secretary of the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought in Iran.

The conference was opened by Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz, represented by Mrs. Muriel Berst, councillor of the Swiss delegation at the United Nations’ European headquarters in Geneva. She pledged Switzerland’s all-out support for the Saudi King’s initiative and praised the initiative of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. She commended the impact of religions in promoting a utopian ideal.

In the opening session, Dr. Bandar Al-Eiban, President of the Human Rights Commission in Saudi Arabia, who delivered the Kingdom’s speech, emphasized the importance of focusing on values shared by all religions. “The focus on differences by followers of different faiths and cultures had led to fanaticism and destructive wars,” he said and noted that the conference will provide a good opportunity to enhance cooperation among representatives of beliefs and cultures and to encourage dialogue as well as enhance the pillars of international cooperation for realizing coexistence.

The aims and objectives of the conference
At the very beginning of the conference, the Secretary General of the MWL, Dr. Abdullah Mohsin Al-Turki spelled out the objectives of the conference. He said that the Geneva meeting would generate global and popular support for the King’s initiative to promote a culture of dialogue among nations, organisations and individuals. “The main objectives of the king’s initiative are to uphold human values, establish justice, promote cooperation, protect human rights, preserve the family and end conflicts.”  “King Abdullah’s interfaith dialogue initiative aims at disseminating human values, promoting coexistence of the people of different faiths, spreading the values of peace and security, fighting evil in the world and promoting cooperation between communities,” Dr. Al-Turki said.

The other objective of the conference, according to Dr. Al-Turki, was to spread human values that are shared by all religions. “This will encourage them to work jointly to solve pressing humanitarian problems, such as poverty, family violence, drug abuse and terrorism and violation of human rights,” he said.

Deliberations of the Conference
During the two-day conference, the delegates and participants asked the Geneva conference to give a clear vision and plan for the future and also to give a clear direction for future interfaith dialogue. Three important directions came out from the deliberations of the conference: one was a call for the establishment of an international research institute for training of the younger generations; another was to nurture the culture of dialogue among the younger generations to make the historic initiative launched by the Custodian of the Holy Mosques King Abdullah and also the role of the media in the interfaith dialogue and the role of the international media. .

1. Establishment of an International Dialogue Centre
Bava Jain, Secretary General of the World Council of Religious Leaders told reporters: “His Majesty King Abdullah has done his part in paving the foundation for this historic initiative by visiting the Vatican, meeting the Pope, organizing the Madrid conference and bringing together world leaders at the UN General Assembly to discuss the initiative. Now it is our duty to build upon this initiative to make it a big success.”  

Mr. Jain called for the establishment of an international training and research institute to educate young religious leaders on the importance of dialogue among people of different faiths. Earlier on the eve of the Geneva Conference, Dr. Al-Turki, Secretary General of the Muslim World League also spoke about plans to establish an international centre to promote King Abdullah’s interfaith dialogue initiative. There was also a plan to set up an international committee on interfaith dialogue including prominent personalities from across the world. “We want to give a message to the world that Islam and Muslims stand for peace, and Saudi Arabia, its leadership and people want to make their contributions to world peace by promoting dialogue among the followers of different faiths,” he said, hoping that these efforts would help stop the smear campaigns against Islam and Muslims.

Rabbi Steven Jacobs, Rabbi Emeritus Temple Kol Tikvah in the US while presiding over a session titled “The Initiative and the Scope of Coexistence among Civilizations,” said, “Let’s work hand-in-hand and heart-to-heart in this long journey,” and asked the participants to join him in prayer for the success of the initiative.

The Geneva Conference affirmed its support for the establishment of an international dialogue centre that would pursue the king’s historic initiative. It also supported the formation of a Global Islamic Commission involving major organizations concerned with dialogue.

2. Promoting the spirit of culture of dialogue
So far as to promote the culture of dialogue is concerned, MWL Secretary General said, this international forum would create greater understanding among the followers of different religions, promote goodwill within the human family, consolidate the foundations of peace and friendships among nations and to encourage them to work together for the welfare and betterment of all mankind. Shantilal Somaiya, who runs several educational institutions in Mumbai, India, said he was ready to provide every support to organize a similar conference in India.

President of Christians and Muslims for Peace, William Baker, wanted more discussions on major issues and said, “I am happy that this dialogue is being initiated by Saudis. It will help remove the misconceptions about Saudi Arabia and its people in this part of the world,” Baker said. “We need to move forward now by taking the dialogue initiative to the public and discuss issues such as poverty, occupation of homeland and human rights violation.”

Senator Adil Akhmetov of Kazakhstan emphasized the need to develop the culture of dialogue in families and children.” If we teach our children the importance of dialogue and coexistence and about the unity of religions it will make them world citizens and ambassadors of peace,” Senator Akhmetov said.

The final communiqué said the participants would appreciate the inclusion of more women and youths in future dialogue forums. They also called for greater cooperation between faith communities in fighting poverty, ignorance, diseases and disasters.

Secretary-General of the MWL told reporters at the conclusion of the two-day international interfaith conference in Geneva that his organisations is ready to participate in conferences and forums organized by any other institution to promote interfaith dialogue initiated by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and also indicated that the next conference would be held in Southeast Asia next year.

International media and the spread of culture of dialogue
Father Econos Nabeel Haddad, Executive Director of the Jordanian Centre for Religious Coexistence Research said, “Dialogue is an essential choice for societies to make progress and achieve peace” and urged the media to play an important role to spread the spirit of dialogue and coexistence all over the world.

The Geneva Conference urged the Muslim World League to convene a world conference on the “Mission of the International Media in Promoting Interfaith Dialogue”. The conference also urged international media to spread the culture of dialogue and prevent the culture of violence, stopping publication of violent art productions. It also rejected racial discrimination and racial superiority. “Differences in human beings and diversity of ethnicities and religions are realities permitted by God.”

This is the fourth international conference was held in connection with promoting interfaith dialogue at the initiative of the Custodian of Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. The first was held in Makkah, the second in Madrid and the third at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah initiated an interfaith dialogue as a way to boost tolerance and understanding, in particular between the Muslim, Christian and Hindu cultures to strengthening world peace and stability.

King Abdullah’s Journey to Interfaith Dialogue
King Abdullah began this journey of his interfaith dialogue three years ago in the Holy City of Makkah, when he called on all 57 Muslim heads of state to meet in Islam’s holiest city to ponder the issues of extremism and call for a Muslim renaissance. The King traveled to Vatican and met Pope Benedict offering him peace and friendship on behalf of the Muslim world. The visit heralded a new era in the relations between two Abrahamic faiths that have so much in common yet have seldom been at peace with each other.

King Abdullah hosted the first historic interfaith dialogue conference in Makkah in June 2008. The Makkah conference, which was held on 4 June, 2008, brought together about 500 Muslim leaders from around the world in order to set an agenda for the building of better relations between Muslims and followers of other faiths. Kind Abdullah said, “It is therefore incumbent upon us to declare to the world that difference must not lead to conflict and confrontation, and to state that the tragedies that have occurred in human history were not attributable to religion, but were the result of extremism with which some adherents of every divinely revealed religion, and of every political ideology, have been afflicted.”

The second conference on Dialogue was held in Madrid on 16 July, 2008, which was attended by around 300 eminent personalities and representatives from among the followers of the three revealed religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, as well as by representatives of Oriental philosophies, cultures and civilizations. “If we want this historic encounter to succeed, we must look to the things that unite us: Our profound faith in God, the noble principles and elevated ethics that represent the foundation of religions,” the king told the Madrid conference.

Then King Abdullah took his battle of hearts and minds to the global centre-stage at the UN. A Two-day interfaith conference titled “High-Level Meeting on Culture of Peace” was held at the UN headquarters from 12-13 November 2008 to promote the culture of peace and dialogue among the followers of various faiths. UN General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann invited leaders of 192 member countries and observers, including the Vatican, to attend the conference. Many world leaders including US President George W. Bush, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, Israeli President Shimon Peres, King Abdallah of Jordan, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan attended at the conference.