World leaders have concluded a major U.N. conference on inter-faith relations by rejecting acts of terrorism and violence against civilians committed in the name of religion.
In the declaration read by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday, "participating states affirmed their rejection of the use of religion to justify the killing of innocent people and actions on terrorism, violence and coercion, which directly contradict the commitment of all religions to peace, justice and equality."
The two-day conference in New York brought together 14 heads of state as part of an ongoing international level dialogue between the world’s major faiths initiated by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to overcome religious divisions and foster peaceful relations between the major faiths.
Speaking through a translator, the Saudi king called for a rejection of terrorism.
"Terrorism and criminality are the enemies of each and every religion and civilization," he said. "They wouldn't have appeared had it not been for the upset of the principles of tolerance."
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal indicated to reporters, however, that there would be no immediate change in Saudi Arabia, a country which follows a strict form of Islam known as Wahhabism that forbids public adherence to any other religion.
"If you bring people together so that they understand that they have the same ethics, they have the same values, this will open the hearts and minds of people for further progress," Saud told reporters. "But to say from the beginning you have to transform yourself into something which you aren't now or nothing else can be achieved is, I think, carrying the argument too far."
Ban stressed the need for people of faith to find common ground.
"King Abdullah's initiative has come at a time when the need for dialogue among religions, cultures and civilisations has never been greater," Ban told a news conference. "The challenge now is to go beyond the powerful, positive words we have heard."
The conference performed a rare feat in bringing the Saudi king and Israeli President Shimon Peres together in the same room, although the two never spoke directly with one another.
The conference had, Ban noted, "brought together people who might not otherwise have a chance to interact."
"Along with other initiatives, it will contribute to building a more harmonious world," he added.
U.S. President George W. Bush gave what is expected to be his last U.N. address as president on Thursday, in which he rejected the use of religion to justify terrorism and acts of violence against people.
"We believe God calls us to live in peace — and to oppose all those who use His name to justify violence and murder,” he said.
He added that religious freedom was crucial to quashing extremism.
"People who are free to express their opinions can challenge the ideologies of hate," he said. "They can defend their religious beliefs and speak out against those seeking to twist them to evil ends. They can prevent their children from falling under the sway of extremists by giving them a more hopeful alternative."