A reaction to the article at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7515495.stm
The "World Conference on Dialogue" recently concluded in Madrid. Organized through the Saudi-based Muslim World League, the massive interfaith conference was the brainchild of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who took care to invite delegates representing all of the world's major religions. The king opened the conference with a "a message that declares that Islam is the religion of moderation and tolerance, a message that calls for constructive dialogue among followers of religions, and a message that promises to open up a new page for mankind, in which concord will replace conflict".
Apparently, at least one prominent world leader was willing to take him at his word. Tony Blair said it was "a message that declares that Islam is the religion of moderation and tolerance, a message that calls for constructive dialogue among followers of religions, and a message that promises to open up a new page for mankind, in which concord will replace conflict". He even went so far as to say that the fact that it was Abdullah's intiative gave it its "tremendous significance". While it may be substantially true that Islam, in its pure Koranic form, does preach moderation and tolerance, this certainly isn't true of the Wahhabist extremism which King Abdullah promotes as the state religion of his country.
Let us briefly consider the state of religious affairs in the Kingdom of Saud. All non-Muslims are legally forbidden from publicly practicing their religion within the kingdom (penalties include but are not limited to imprisonment, lashing, deportation, and torture). Non-Muslims are barred from entering the precincts of Mecca, and have special designated highway bypasses. Non-Muslim clergy are forbidden to enter the country for the purposes of conducting religious services, and must come under other auspices in order to illicitly perform any baptisms, holy eucharist, bar mitzvahs, etc. It is forbidden to distribute non-Muslim religious materials (including the Bible), and foreign mail is frequently opened to check for such works so they can be seized. No proivate religious schools are allowed for non-Wahhabists. Conversion to non-Muslim faiths is punishable by death.
Sufis, Shiites, and many non-Wahhabist Sunnis are considered apostates from Islam, and placed under similar legal restrictions. In 2006, a Shiite student was arrested for proselytizing on his campus. The fear of other forms of Islam is so great that non-Saudi imams are legally debarred from leading prayers at the busiest times or from preaching on Friday, regardless of their credentials as Islamic scholars. Shiites are discriminated against in government employment and religious practice, and have even been beaten by religious police for being "infidels" while performing the pilgrimage to Mecca. The Saudi-funded campus of Imam Mohamed Bin Saud University in Virginia teaches that Shia Islam is a Jewish conspiracy. (Congressional Human Rights Caucus, 2002)
And this is the reign of the man whom Mister Blair feels gives the conference its "tremendous significance"? Even worse than the ignorance of politicians is the necessarily knowledgeable conspiracy of religious leaders. Why would any right thinking priest, rabbi, or Buddhist monk even agree to attend a conference hosted by the King of Saudi Arabia? Why not send Nelson Mandela to a conference on racial equality hosted by the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan? Shame on these clergymen who turn a deaf ear to the cries of their coreligionists, and endorse by their presence Saudi Arabia's claim to be a bastion of inter-faith understanding. Shame on them for allowing King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, to sully the faith of the Prophet by pretending to be its guardian.
I agree with Mr. Blair that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance at heart, but it cannot be so in practice as long as the world's leaders, political and religious, continue to keep silent about the abuses committed in its name, and collaborate with the hypocrisy of its bigots.