This year, the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) will be represented at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, convening in Salt Lake City this weekend and opening today. We are sending a representative to the Parliament to engage with interfaith leaders on behalf of liberty-minded Muslims who embrace a pluralistic interpretation of Islam and promote the value of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
The Parliament of the World’s Religions began convening in 1893, a meeting considered to be the birthplace of the global interfaith movement. This year marks the first Parliament held in the United States since 1993.
We at AIFD share many of the Parliament’s values: we stand for the equal rights of women and girls, we work to support emerging leaders, and seek to end violence. We are especially pleased that the Parliament has taken an important step in addressing horrors like honor-based violence and child marriage, something we have long urged religious leaders to do. Because of these shared values and the undeniable importance of the Parliament in the area of interfaith relations and religious freedom, AIFD must highlight the troublesome inconsistencies between the Parliament’s stated values and some of its leading sponsors and speakers.
A “major sponsor” of the Parliament is the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), founded by the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2011. Serving as the chair of the Parliament’s Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees is Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, founding Chairman of the Sound Vision Foundation behind the “Stand with the Prophet” rallies nationwide. According to recent emails distributed by the Parliament (and Mujahid’s facebook posting), this year’s keynote address will be offered by Saudi Arabia’s Sheikh Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Humaid, the current mufti of the Grand Mosque of Mecca and a recent head of the Kingdom’s Majlis al-Shura. He is notably the author of an apologetic and widely distributed paper on jihad we find immensely troubling, especially considering current global challenges with regards to radical Islam. This was published by Abdul Malik Mujahid himself, who praised it as “so heart evoking and encouraging.” “Major speakers” at this year’s Parliament include even more individuals backed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, such as Georgetown University’s John L. Esposito.
The problems with a Saudi funded, Saudi backed and Saudi-heavy Parliament on the World’s Religions are obvious – even glaring. The inconsistencies between the Parliament’s stated aims and its apparent willingness to be backed and essentially owned by the House of Saud raise concerns about the Parliament’s legitimacy, sincerity, and efficacy.
Saudi Arabia’s record on women’s rights; its refusal to grant even the most basic rights to religious minorities within the Kingdom; its regular use of and exportation of vile Wahhabist and other Islamist “hate speech” against all who don’t embrace their dangerous, fatalist interpretation of Islam; its veritable enslavement of migrant workers from Africa and Asia, who work for the wealthy but remain in dire poverty, often subjected to violence (including rape) by their Saudi “employers”; its oppression, torture, and murder of dissident youth who challenge the status quo – these are all well-known crimes against the very declarations this year’s Saudi-backed Parliament promotes. These are all also counter to the spirit of the Parliament itself, and are a deep cancer to the interfaith movement worldwide and the honest promotion of the values of the UDHR.
We believe in looking at the whole picture. Otherwise we as participants especially on American soil become tools in legitimizing and laundering the domestic injustices of theocracies like Saudi Arabia. Because we believe in the power of interfaith engagement to address some of the most urgent problems facing the global community – especially those human rights abuses committed in the name of religion and/or culture – we propose that the Parliament, along with its attendees, demand that all speakers, including Sheikh Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Humaid and Abdul Malik Mujahid; as well as all panel speakers, publicly sign a document affirming all of the Parliament’s declaratory positions.
Should the Parliament’s sponsors, speakers, and Board of Trustees refuse to sign onto these declarations both as individuals and on behalf of their local and national governments, the Parliament should immediately cease engagement with them in any form – especially financially. The Parliament cannot claim an honest commitment to these noble ideals while taking checks from the very regime which makes achieving them impossible. Will attendees and speakers enjoy the comfortable, prestigious environment of the Parliament, and even be willing to promote the fact that they are attending, while Raif Badawi languishes in prison under false accusations of apostasy and more? Will those pleased with the Parliament’s stance on women comment on the horrendous treatment of women in Saudi Arabia, where the concept of male guardianship leads to unspeakable evils? Will those who believe the Parliament supports interfaith peacebuilding and youth engagement speak up about the case of Ali al-Nimr, a Saudi and Shia Muslim who, at the age of 17, was arrested for allegedly “attending anti-government protests?” Many believe he was both targeted and punished so harshly because of his Shia faith. Raif Badawi, a devout Muslim was flogged by the Saudi regime in front of the largest mosque in Jeddah to make an example of him for his “speech crimes against Islam” and because he “liked” a Christian Facebook page. This is how the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia actually handles intra-faith engagement, and the empowerment of youth who seek to change the status quo. If Ali were an American, perhaps he would be attending this year’s Parliament (many feminists, minority rights activists and others will be attending this year’s Parliament) rather awaiting his execution in Saudi Arabia, where he has already been tortured. This is not to mention the utter absence of any freedom for minority faiths to practice or build houses of worship in the medieval Kingdom. Radical Islamists like ISIS learn how to persecute minorities and behead dissidents from Wahhabi led societies like Saudi Arabia. The association of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, one of the worlds worst offenders of religious freedom, with the Parliament is an inexplicable frankly embarrassing relationship.
AIFD encourages attendees to make their voices heard on these issues, and commits to highlighting positive efforts made toward getting the Parliament’s backers, organizers and speakers to commit to the Parliament’s declarations. In return, we ask attendees to demand this from the Parliament.
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