In 2007, King Abdullah held a groundbreaking meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. A year later, he invited religious scholars, media representatives, academics and intellectuals from around the globe to take part in three-day interfaith talks in Makkah. During that meeting, the parameters of the discussions Muslims should be having with people of other faiths were outlined. Since then, Saudi Arabia’s efforts to bring peace to the world have not stopped, nor will they end till the globe is free of terrorism and extremism. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said in interviews that he wants to return Saudi Arabia to a “moderate Islam” that is more open to the world and tolerant of other faiths. In November 2017, King Salman held talks in Riyadh with Lebanon’s Maronite Christian Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi.
Both men stressed the importance of the role of all religions and cultures in promoting tolerance, renouncing violence, extremism and terrorism, and achieving security and peace for the peoples of the region and the world. Al-Rahi later also met the crown prince.
In April this year, the king received at his office at Al-Yamamah Palace in Riyadh the chairman of the Pontifical Council for Interfaith Dialogue at the Vatican, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, and his accompanying delegation.
During the meeting, they again stressed the important role that followers of all religions and cultures have to play in renouncing violence, extremism and terrorism, and achieving global security and stability. In March, Crown Prince Mohammed met political and religious leaders on the second day of his landmark visit to the UK. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion of millions of Christians, received the crown prince at Lambeth Palace in central London, where the two men talked for an hour.
They also viewed a selection of early texts from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths, including fragments of a Qur’an manuscript found in a Birmingham University library in 2015, which are thought to be among the world’s oldest.
The crown prince extended an invitation to the archbishop to visit Saudi Arabia, according to senior sources at the Saudi Embassy in the UK and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They added that the meeting had been “very positive and very pleasant.” Three weeks later, the crown prince met several US religious leaders in New York.
During those meetings, the crown prince stressed the importance of respect between followers of all religions and the need to promote the positive values of coexistence and tolerance. A few days before his trip to the UK, the crown prince met Coptic Pope Tawadros II at Cairo’s largest cathedral, and invited Egyptian Christians to visit Saudi Arabia, saying that all Coptic Christians are welcome.
Meanwhile, the secretary-general of the Muslim World League, Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, and the Vatican’s Cardinal Tauran signed a cooperation agreement in April for achieving common objectives. Islamic researcher Sheikh Ahmed Al-Ghamdi said interfaith dialogue is a necessary human, religious and cultural endeavor that will help to curb terrorism and extremism. A former president of the Makkah branch of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice — sometimes referred to in the media as the “religious police” — he believes that such discussions should be widened to include more followers of other religions to ease hostilities and thwart terrorism, sectarianism and racism.
“We need to widen the circle of interfaith dialogue between societies in order to spread acquaintance, create rapprochement and correct the distorted image of Islam,” he said.
“Dialogue between followers of all the divinely revealed religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — can bring peace to the world. Moreover, talking with followers of Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism and other religions can also widen the space for peace.