Believe it or not, Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s worst human rights offenders, runs a program to equip educators from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim training institutions with the skills to train a new generation of religious leaders.
Twenty religious educators and scholars from around the world have been accepted into the second KAICIID Fellows Program, a year-long program of training in conflict resolution, and social cohesion, the Vienna-based intergovernmental organization announced Monday. And if you were wondering, KAICIID stands for King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue. And, according to the center’s press release, almost half of the future leaders come from countries which are currently undergoing periods of violent conflict with religion as a factor, such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nigeria and Iraq.
The training program aims to equip educators from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim training institutions with the skills to train a new generation of religious leaders in conflict prevention, interreligious dialogue and social cohesion, so that they, in turn, can be active peacemakers in their communities.
The center’s press release states that “religious leaders are immensely influential in their local communities: through their words, actions, and spiritual guidance, they can, and do, hold communities together in the face of threats like radicalization and extremism. The KAICIID Fellows program is designed to help them in this task, through concrete, institutional, skill-based training programs.”
KAICIID Secretary General, Faisal Bin Muaammar said: “Even though the Fellows Program has only been in existence for a year, our trainees have already delivered very positive results. We are amazed and motivated by the positive changes that can result from bringing people from different religious traditions together in dialogue, and we are confident that leaders in religious communities, and through them, the larger public from all these countries will benefit directly as a result.”
The KAICIID was established in Vienna on October 13, 2011, in an agreement signed by the governments of Austria, Spain and Saudi Arabia. The center was inaugurated on November 27, 2012 in Vienna, in a ceremony attended by representatives of the world’s major religions. The inauguration-ceremony was difficult to follow, however, since it was drowned in the noise coming from protesters outside, including the Austrian Green Party and Austrian NGOs concerned with Saudi Arabia’s poor human-rights record and fears that the KAICIID would in fact be misused by founding member and chief financier Saudi Arabia as a bridge-head for spreading Wahhabism in Europe.
Wahhabism is the flavor of Islam dominating religious and political life in Saudi Arabia, rejecting European culture in favor of a strict reading of the Koran text—in short, the theology that gave the world Al Qaeda, 9/11 and many more “gifts” since. Its founder, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703–1792), was a misanthropic man who considered the other Muslims of Arabia to be unbelievers, and preached waging war on them.
The Saudis, an Arabian tribe that made a living robbing caravans, embraced his point of view, then went and, in the 1920s, kicked the Hashemites out of Mecca and have remained the rulers of the peninsula ever since. If you ever wondered why women are treated the way they are in Saudi Arabia, and why Saudi courts stick so strictly to medieval modes of punishment, and why Jews are not allowed to set foot in the Kingdom—you’ll find all the justification you’ll need for those and countless other despicable rules in the work of al-Wahhab, a small book called “Kitab al-Tawheed” (the Book of the Oneness of God).
Which is why it’s so shocking that the center established by a recent king who ruled by the letter and the spirit of the above laws, says about itself: “KAICIID is an intergovernmental organization whose mandate is to promote the use of dialogue globally to prevent and resolve conflict, to enhance understanding and cooperation . Over a seven-year-long negotiation and development process, KAICIID’s mandate and structure were designed to foster dialogue among people of different faiths and cultures that bridges animosities, reduces fear and instills mutual respect.”
Nourah Alhasawi, Head of the Islamic Studies Department at the Princess Noura Bent Abdurrahman University in Riyadh, said: “Some people came with curiosity, you can see in their eyes that they are maybe coming with their own background and stereotypes but you can also see it through their eyes when it has changed – and in their smiles.”
If ever a report needed to conclude with, Go Figure, it’s this one. Go figure.