Centre for Religious Dialogue Opened in Vienna
Austria, Spain and Saudis come together to Fund the Centre
Vienna: United Nations chief, Ban Ki-Moon opened the King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz International Centre for Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) here on November 27. The Centre is sponsored jointly by Saudi Arabia, Austria and Spain with the Vatican acting as “founding observer”. The sponsors say it will build bridges between faiths.
The Centre’s board consists of three Christians, three Muslims, a Jew, a Buddhist and a Hindu. Backers hope it will promote increased tolerance not only in Europe, but also in Saudi Arabia, where the powerful clergy has resisted reforms.
Though there are fears that the Centre would be used for the propagation of Wahhabism, the rigid doctrine followed by the Saudis, Austrian foreign minister Mr. Michael Spindelegger defended the establishment of KAICIID in Vienna, saying it is my deep conviction that there is no alternative to this dialogue. KAICIID also allayed such fears saying that it would not be promoting any one religion.
Ban Ki-Moon said: “Too many religious leaders have stoked intolerance, supported extremism and propagated hate. Yet we know that blaming the other is not a political strategy for a healthy country, continent or world. Religious leaders have immense influence. They can be powerful forces for cooperation and learning. They can set an example of interfaith dialogue.”
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, Spanish Foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo, Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger and Indian social activist and scholar Swami Agnivesh attended the opening ceremony.
Muslim World League chief, Abdullah Al Turki who also spoke at the occasion hoped that the Centre will support the international effort to issue an international law criminalizing the abuse of religions and God’s prophets. He pleaded for UN support to outlaw blasphemy. The Centre is located in Hofburg Palace in the Austrian capital. The Centre will be funded by Saudi Arabia with Euros 10 to 15 million for the first three years. Faisal Bin Abdul Rahman Bin Muammar, a former Saudi deputy education minister is the secretary. The Centre will take two major programmes to begin with i.e., a conference titled, ‘The image of the other’ will look at stereotypes and misconceptions in education, the media and the Internet’ and a fellowship programme will bring together applicants from different religions. Critics such as Liberal Muslim Initiative in Austria said it believed that “this dubious Wahhabist centre in Vienna” will “only serve Saudi Arabia’s interest abroad under the guise of dialogue”. A small group of protestors under the banner of the organization gathered outside the Hofburg Palace ahead of the inauguration.
Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, the Orthodox Church’s representative on the KAICII board also highlighted poor human rights record of Saudi Arabia in an interview with Austria’s Catholic news agency Kathpress. He however hoped that the ‘next three years will be a trial period.”