Saudi-sponsored Event Draws Faith Reps To Madrid

In a gesture toward improved interfaith relations, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia sponsored a three-day conference in Madrid in July for representatives from some of the world’s religions.

Saudi Arabia made it clear that the meeting was strictly for a religious purpose, not a political one. The event was not held in Saudi Arabia, leaving many to believe that it was “politically unpalatable for Abdullah to allow Jewish and Christian leaders on Saudi soil,” the AP reported.

At the conference, the delegates discussed dialogue within the Islamic world and with other religions, mainly Christianity and Judaism. They also talked about the need to protect the family, the role of women and how to protect the environment.

“It is essential for this world dialogue to be open and that its sessions be held periodically,” the final conference statement said.

Saudi Arabia is a militantly Muslim nation, where no faiths other than a very conservative variant of Islam may be practiced. Observers saw the Madrid conference as a slight gesture toward pluralism, but few expect the country’s rigid policies to change anytime soon. Fifteen Christians were reportedly expelled in August for worshipping privately.