Saudi Arabia to Host Major Interfaith Conference in Madrid

Christians, Jews and Muslims will gather in Madrid later this month for what could be one of the highest profile interfaith meetings in recorded history.

The three-day conference, hosted by Saudi Arabia, aims to highlight the attendees' shared heritage as children of Abraham and lists many prominent leaders and figures of faith including evangelist Franklin Graham, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, and former Vice President Al Gore.

Also among the 200 prominent religious leaders will be major Jewish leaders including Rabbi David Rosen, the former chief rabbi of Ireland and head of the interfaith committee of the American Jewish Committee.

Although Israel and Saudi Arabia do not currently have formal diplomatic ties, Rosen said that he believes the conference will do much to promote peace and understanding.

"I think that will be a great achievement," he told The Associated Press.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah said he hopes that the conference, which will be held July 16-18, will help facilitate relations between the world's three major religions while helping to improve the world's perception of Islam.

Last month, Muslim scholars meeting in Saudi Arabia wrapped up a three-day conference by calling for efforts to ease tensions within Islam and boost dialogue with Christians and Jews.

In a statement reported by the official Saudi Press Agency, the scholars stressed the need for dialogue with other religions to give a "correct picture of Islam" and to reach "out to other sects of Islam, which will lead to uniting the nation."

They also called for "solving the problems and disagreements that might take place among Muslims and other [non-Muslims] ... and to achieve an understanding among civilizations and human cultures."

Saudi King Abdullah, one of Sunni Islam's most prominent figures, spoke at the start of the conference in the holy city of Mecca and urged Muslims to get on the same page ahead of opening dialogue with Christians and Jews.

More recently, Abdullah has been making efforts to present oil-rich Saudi Arabia as a force for moderation in the Middle East, despite the kingdom's adherence to the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Sunni Islam and its religious restrictions at home.

Religious practice is so restricted in Saudi Arabia that even certain Muslim sects, such as Sufis and Shiites, face discrimination, while conversion by a Muslim to another religion is punishable by death.

Christian Post reporter Eric Young in Los Angeles contributed to this article.

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