World Jewish leaders hail interreligious initiative

By Ecumenical News International
June 2, 2008

Leaders of the World Jewish Congress have endorsed a call by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia for more dialogue between Jews, Christians and Muslims worldwide to reinforce common values among the Abrahamic faiths - writes Maurice Melanes.

"It is the duty of all religions to restore respect for humanity," the WJC said in a statement on 27 May. "Such an initiative demonstrates optimism that dialogue involving representatives of different faiths can help the peoples of the world during difficult times. Discussion can help in finding ways to approach the crisis of ethical values facing our societies."

In March, while speaking at a conference in Riyadh on culture and religion, King Abdullah said, "The idea is to ask representatives of all monotheistic religions to sit together with their brothers in faith and sincerity to all religions as we all believe in the same God."

The king was referring to three Abrahamic or monotheistic faiths - Christianity, Islam and Judaism - which are said to account for more than half of the world's population.

Saleh Yousef, a specialist in Arabic culture and inter-religious discourse, who teaches at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, welcomed the move, but said, "It’s easy for the king of Saudi Arabia to make these comments in front of the lights and the cameras on an international stage. The real question is what foundation will be put in place to see this through?"

He added, "The Saudis must step forward now and take action. But there are many more questions to come: What will be the format? Will this involve governmental representatives or social representatives? Will they encourage youth exchanges?"

Yousef himself has begun an inter-religious group in Oxford dedicated to promoting greater understanding and respect for the Abrahamic faiths.

The WJC said it strongly believes that thorough discussion and debate between people who share a common root they can learn that the ideals, aspirations and values "that we share far outweigh any difference we may have".

WJC President Ronald S. Lauder described the king's initiative as "a laudable step forward. We hope that other religious and political leaders throughout the world will be encouraged to join."

The congress governing board chairperson Matthew Bronfman, said, "The World Jewish Congress is ready to participate in any serious inter-faith talks that are based on mutual respect."

The World Jewish Congress is the international organization representing Jewish communities in more than 80 countries around the world. It is often seen as the diplomatic arm of the Jewish people to governments and international organizations and has been involved in inter-religious dialogue for decades.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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