Interfaith Conference Organized by Group With Terror Links (July 11)

But terrorism is part of the Muslim faith, so what’s the problem? If we just accept this reality, we’ll be less surprised to learn of these things:

( – An international interfaith conference taking place in Madrid [this] week is being hosted by a Saudi charity that is affiliated with organizations blacklisted by the U.S. government for bankrolling al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups.

Among those invited to attend the gathering organized by the Muslim World League (MWL) were former Vice President Al Gore and senior figures from the world’s leading religions. Gore’s office said Friday it had “declined that invitation some time ago due to a scheduling conflict.”

The high-profile July 16-18 event will be opened by Saudi King Abdullah, who laid the groundwork with a preparatory meeting — also organized by the MWL — of Sunni and Shi’ite leaders in Mecca last month.

The MWL’s invitation list for the Madrid event includes 170 participants, among them Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Vatican’s head of inter-religious dialogue Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, and Rabbi David Rosen, the head of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee. Attendance has not been confirmed.

MWL secretary-general Abdullah Al- Turki told the Saudi Press Agency that the conference would seek “to isolate those forces that try to promote hatred and create conflicts.”

But the Mecca-based MWL, which has close ties to the Saudi government, is itself highly controversial.

The league is one of the so-called “big four” Saudi charities whose activities have been exercising U.S. officials dealing in terrorism funding since 9/11. The others are the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and al-Haramain – both constituent bodies of the league – and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY).

In August 2006 the U.S. Treasury Department — under a post-9/11 executive order — designated branches of the IIRO in Indonesia and the Philippines for channeling funds respectively to Jemaah Islamiah and Abu Sayyaf Group, both affiliated to al-Qaeda.

The Treasury Department also designated 13 al-Haramain branches across the world, including one in the United States. Last month it added to the list al-Haramain in its entirety, including its Saudi headquarters. It said the organization had provided financial and material support to al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.

Apart from links to terror financing, the MWL also is accused of spreading the kingdom’s strict Wahhabi brand of Islam through schools and mosques abroad.

[S]ome skeptics view the Madrid conference as a Saudi exercise in da’wa, the term used in Islam for proselytizing or issuing an invitation for non-Muslims to come to the faith.

Addressing the preparatory conference in Mecca last month, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz Al al-Sheikh – the kingdom’s top religious authority – stressed that converting people to Islam was the primary goal of interfaith dialogue.

“It is the opportunity to disseminate the principles of Islam,” the Guardian newspaper quoted al-Sheikh as telling the delegates. “Islam advocates dialogue among people, especially calling them to the path of Allah.”

At the end of the Mecca conference, the participants issued a statement saying that the meeting “has been held at a time when the world faces countless challenges that threaten the very existence of mankind. The conference affirms that Islam has a solution to these crises …”

Now, this reinvigorated d’awa approach is actually a response to developments earlier this year, following the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s attempts to preclude dialogue about the dangers of Islam by calling for “respect of religions”, including an international law that would make it illegal to defame religions (i.e. to defame Islam). But that plan ran into a hurdle when “members of the council argued that a convention protecting all religions from defamation would oblige Muslims to tolerate other religious beliefs,” as reported below:

Saudi Politicians Refuse to Act Against Defamation of Religions (From March)

( - An Islamic initiative to establish an international convention against the “defamation” of religions ran into an unexpected hurdle this week in Saudi Arabia, where members of a government advisory body argued that the move could force Muslims to recognize pagan beliefs.

The drive to outlaw offenses against religions and religious figures is being spearheaded by the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) as a response to Western depictions of Islam and Mohammed in ways that Muslims consider insulting.

Although protecting Islam is the goal, in order to win support at the United Nations, the OIC is pushing for a convention against insulting all faiths. Last December, an OIC-led resolution on the “defamation of religions” passed in the U.N. General Assembly by a 108-51 vote, with almost half of the support coming from non-Muslim states.

As a key player in the OIC, Saudi Arabia has a leading role in the campaign.

Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council — an appointed body that advises the kingdom’s unelected government — this week considered a recommendation that the foreign ministry should coordinate with various groups at the U.N. “to adopt an international convention that prohibits offending religions and religious figures in any way.”

The proposal sparked some dissent. Members of the council argued that a convention protecting all religions from defamation would oblige Muslims to tolerate other religious beliefs.

Council member Khaleel al-Khaleel was quoted by the Saudi Gazette as warning against a “trap,” and saying that religious concepts differ from country to country and from civilization to civilization.

“Should Muslims be committed to respect and not criticize any deviant creed that some people consider a religion?” he asked.

Another member, Talal Bakri, said a convention against “offending religions” could lead to calls for Muslim countries to allow temples of pagan religions.

Saudi Arabia, which is listed by the State Department as one the world’s most egregious violators of religious freedom, does not permit non-Muslim places of worship, including churches and synagogues.

The Shoura Council, whose members are appointed by the king, is the closest thing Saudi Arabia has to a parliament. Its stance could prove awkward, given the priority the OIC is giving to the issues of “Islamophobia” and slights to Islam, such as cartoons lampooning Mohammed.

At an OIC summit in Senegal last week where “Islamophobia” was high on the agenda, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal said freedom of expression should not be used as an excuse to infringe “the rights and freedoms of religious beliefs of individuals.”

“We call upon the international community and all its civil and official institutions, and its media to respect Islam in its capacity as a divine religion and the most widespread,” he said.

The summit voiced its support for a proposal by Moroccan King Mohammed VI, calling for an international convention to define “appropriate controls and rules” for the practice of free speech alongside obligations to respect religious beliefs and symbols.

So the faith-in-terror conference/conversion conference that opened this post can be called “Back to Plan A”.