SAUDI KING CALLS FOR TOLERANCE

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia last week called on followers of the world’s main religions to turn away from extremism and embrace a spirit of reconciliation. He was in Madrid to open a conference that brought together Muslims, Christians, Jews and Buddhists. He said the great conflicts of history were not caused by religion, but by the misinterpretation of religion. King Juan Carlos, the co-host, said Spain had always sought to promote international dialogue. The conference was sponsored by Saudi Arabia and was billed as a strictly religious, non-political affair. It was off limits to journalists apart from the inaugural session. Critics dismissed the gathering as a propaganda gimmick by the Saudis who, they said, are not best placed to host a meeting on religious tolerance. Wahhabism, the strain of Sunni Islam that is officially practised in Saudi Arabia, is considered one of the religion’s most conservative and intolerant forms. However, King Abdullah has made reaching out to other faiths a hallmark of his rule since becoming king in 2005. For example, he is the first reigning Saudi monarch to meet the Pope.

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