Count me as a passionate supporter of electing Riyadh as the host city for the 2030 World Expo, under the motto “The Era of Change: Together for a Foresighted Tomorrow.” Rarely, if ever, has a candidate city to host the World Expo contributed more profoundly in terms of innovative ideas and landmark projects to a sustainable future for humankind, while remaining deeply rooted in 1,400 years of Islamic faith and heritage, than Saudi Arabia.
However, old thinking dies hard and so many think of Riyadh as a zealous, intolerant, and forbidding place where non-Muslims are unwelcome. That image is totally obsolete thanks to the bold, farsighted leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Since 2015, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has embraced a series of historic initiatives to open itself to the world, becoming, in the process, a hub for global connectivity, climate action, the empowerment of women, and rapid growth in the field of culture, including cinema and music.
The cultural transformation of Saudi Arabia has certainly been eye-catching, but the Kingdom’s pioneering effort to strengthen interreligious dialogue and cooperation has been equally profound and of even greater long-term significance.
I have personally witnessed and been inspired by the Kingdom’s protean efforts to advance tolerance and highlight the shared Abrahamic heritage of Judaism and Islam and our closely linked rituals, prayers, and values. All of which led me to proclaim from the podium of the first-of-its-kind World Conference On Dialogue in Madrid, Spain, in 2008, which was sponsored by the late King Abdullah, that “Islam and Judaism share a common faith and a common fate.” That bold statement sounded exaggerated to many at that time but, in the years since, the political and religious leaders of the Kingdom, led by King Salman, have worked closely with partners in the Jewish world to transform Muslim-Jewish relations and turn coexistence into a vibrant reality.
Following the historic Madrid conference, Saudi Arabia began its sustained effort to turn this dream into reality by establishing the King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, which is based in Europe and holds myriad events in the Kingdom and around the world promoting religious pluralism, countering hate speech and protecting the holy sites of all religions.
The Makkah-based Muslim World League has played a huge role in facilitating interreligious cooperation and outreach — especially in its relationship with world Jewry. In 2019, it partnered with my organization, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, in our global twinning of mosques and synagogues in more than 30 countries.
In January 2020, in an act of huge emotional significance for Jews everywhere, Muslim World League Secretary-General Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, the former Saudi minister of justice, visited the Auschwitz death camp on the 75th anniversary of its liberation to declare his solidarity with the millions of Jews murdered there by the Nazis. In 2022, the Muslim World League sponsored the Forum on Common Values Among Religious Followers in Riyadh, bringing together spiritual leaders of Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism from around the world.
In 2019, Saudi Arabia evinced its commitment to promoting a moderate and tolerant Islam by convening a conference in the holy city of Makkah, where the world’s top Islamic scholars adopted the Charter of Makkah, which offers Muslims around the world guidance on the principles that speak to the true meaning of Islam, including pluralism, understanding and mutual respect among the world’s religions. Stirringly, the charter asserts that “differences among people in their beliefs, cultures, and natures are part of God’s will and wisdom.”
This summer, the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance convened a follow-up conference, bringing together 150 leading Islamic scholars, muftis, religious leaders, and thinkers from 85 countries to promote compassion, moderation, and justice as core values of Islam. At the same time, the conference’s communique denounced the detrimental impact of extremist groups in distorting Islam, fueling conflict between global societies, and spreading chaos and insecurity. As a manifestation of this changed approach, school textbooks in the Kingdom are being rewritten to promote peace and mutual understanding between religions and nations.
For these transformative initiatives in the field of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, the election of Riyadh as the location of World Expo 2030 would be a natural fit and a concrete manifestation of the bold plans in the crown prince’s groundbreaking Vision 2030. It would celebrate the Kingdom being at the world’s crossroads for innovation, sustainability, cultural exchange, and interreligious cooperation.
(Rabbi Marc Schneier is President of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and author of “Sons of Abraham: A Candid Conversation about the Issues That Divide and Unite Jews and Muslims.”)