Saudi Arabia: Outreach across Faith


With the events that continue to unfold in the Middle Eastern world this is a critical time for Muslims, Christians and Jews to reach out to one another for understanding.  Yet, because each respective faith is so diverse from another, how does one effectively reach out?

There are few if any Jews in Saudi Arabia but due to the large expatriate community in the Kingdom there are many Christians and other non-Abrahamic faiths.  Taking the Christian expatriate community into consideration, there is a great amount of professional interaction between Saudi Muslims and Christians.  Talks of faith are subjects which are generally avoided.  Yet does the lack of discussion lead to more misunderstandings?

Islamic Centers are prolific throughout Saudi Arabia and open to all to learn about Islam.  King Abdullah has funded an interfaith dialogue center in Vienna.   Yet wouldn’t it be prudent to have open discussions within Saudi Arabia?  As evidenced by events in Cairo, situations can quickly become heated and out of control.  While Cairo is a politically charged situation, misunderstanding or miscommunication between faiths can escalate too (depending on circumstances).  Therefore it seems logical to have interfaith discussions and reaching out between individuals of different faiths who also live and work side-by-side, even in a Muslim country like Saudi Arabia.

Interfaith dialogues are not intended for conversion or proselytize.  Yet in today’s changing world, people cannot remain with their head buried in the sand.  They need to reach out to one another and make an attempt to understand each other.   But a key question is how does one reach out with what some may perceive as barriers of faith?


27 Responses

  1. I do not see that interfaith dialogue is possible, especially with people with who we share so little religiously. More than that I don’t see any purpose to it. We don’t need interfaith dialogue between US Christians and Hindus and I doubt the average American understands anything more about Hinduism than he or she would understand about the Muslim religion.

    The impression that most Americans have about Islam is a poor one, it is based on the perception that Muslims approve of terrorism against non-Muslims. Perhaps that impression is wrong, but is it any more wrong the being suspicious these days when one sees a Catholic priest with a child? The negative news stories we here of Muslims are not fake. Maybe all Muslims aren’t terrorists but those who are actively planning to attack the West are Muslim.

    Muslims need to examine their own consciences. Why do British Muslims think it is right to kill their neighbors? Why do so may Muslims think it way justified to kill US civilians on September 11th 2001? In NJ where I lived at the time Palestinians in Paterson, celebrated. No amount of fancy words after the fact can change those facts.

  2. To be truthful, I don’t find the various major faiths are all that different from one another. Sure, some of the rituals, holidays, and practices are a bit different, but the basic principles aren’t all that different. You’re still supposed to love and respect yourself, others, and God/Allah/universal life force. At least, I think this was the original intention of most, if not all, the major world religions.

    I think the lack of discussion can lead to misunderstandings, but I think that interfaith discussions won’t be possible unless there is an interest in not only hearing but also listening and respecting others’ religious beliefs. I honestly wish my Muslim friends were more open about talking about their religion with me because it is something I wish I knew more about. I may not be interested in converting, but I do have a deep respect for their religion.

    I enjoy sharing what I know of Islam with my Christian relatives to help it be received with more respect as most of them do not have an educated view of Islam. By this I mean that most of them do not understand even the basic principles of the Islamic religion. If they don’t respect Islam, that’s their business, but their opinion should at least be based on reality. At least, that’s my opinion. 😀

  3. I feel interfaith dialogue is very necessary in the Muslim world. Although many Muslims feel that they have the right faith (and of course that is their right) other faiths feel the same way too. I don’t believe that just because a person is not Muslim it makes them less than anyone else…just as I don’t believe being Muslim makes you less than anyone else.

    Considering there are so many non Muslims in Saudi and Saudi’s place such a high value on faith, I think it might be a good thing to know what others think, believe and why. I have never understood the aversion some Muslims (not all) have to hearing about someone else’s faith…and listening with the purpose of truly understanding why this person believes. If Islam is the true faith as they believe then there is no harm in listening to what others believe… just like if I listened to what Muslims believe, I can really get a feel for why they do and there is very little likelihood that I will change my faith because of it. But it would be great to understand someone else’s beliefs.

    I think no matter the religion, it comes down to not trying to convert people, but having a deep respect for the other person’s right to believe what they believe even if it isn’t what you believe. GOD is the only judge and people are so arrogant as to put themselves above others because they know the TRUTH. It is their truth, but not the truth for everyone.
    And we all must respect each person’s personal truth even if it isn’t ours.

    Not knowing other faiths I think tends to make people a bit xenophobic…a little knowledge is not a bad thing and in no way will send millions of Muslims to the “conversion line”, but it might make them a bit more open minded about the others around them.

  4. King Abdulla has funded an interfaith dialogue center in Vienna. King Abdulla is a hypocrite. Obvious interfaith dialogue is for others, not Islam. When he lets other faiths opening meet and worship in Arabia, then we can talk. The fact is that Muslims have absolutely no interest in dialogue except to gain advantages. Actually, the dialogue is actually a monologue because Muslims are incapable of dealing with criticism of Islam, the Quran and their dear prophet, no matter how justified and obvious to non-Muslims. Interfaith dialogue, for Muslims, is about being nice to Muslims and not offending them. It is useless unless Muslims understand that there are things in Islam that offend others and many find to be not just wrong, but evil.

    You will note that the British Prime Minister yesterday said that multiculturalism is not working, and even the moderate UK Muslims were offended. Why? because even moderate Muslims do not share Western values. They (Muslims) love multiculturalism because it means they don’t have to accept basic values of freedom of expression, freedom of religion, equality and separation of religion and state, except then it is convenient for them. I personally don’t think there is any hope for a fruitful dialogue with Muslims because our values are different.

    “Misunderstanding or miscommunications, between faiths, as Carol says, will escalate because more and more people are coming to the sad conclusion that Muslims don’t want peace and have no interest in our values. Muslims have only to blame for this. Too bad!

    Jay K.

    PS: It is less about what Muslims say about Islam, then about what they do, particularly where they are a majority. Also, it is not just non-Muslims that are ignorant of Islam; Muslims seem to know little about their own religion and its teachings.

  5. “PS: It is less about what Muslims say about Islam, then about what they do, particularly where they are a majority. Also, it is not just non-Muslims that are ignorant of Islam; Muslims seem to know little about their own religion and its teachings.”

    Unfortunately this is true. But I think it is safe to say that most people do not know or understand their own religion as they should. Most people do not take the time of day to fully know and understand their religious beliefs, aside from the cultural habits and obvious traditions.

  6. @Jay,
    As someone that lived in the UK for a little bit, I must say that I met a lot of people from around the world (mostly uni students) as well as a few British. I didn’t see a problem with multiculturalism there as most everyone seemed to be accepted about the same. I saw niqabis walking next to people wearing skimpy club-wear. No one really seemed to pay attention to either extreme, or the variations in between.

    Overall, it is harder to make friends there (in England, at least) among locals than in places like the US as England has a somewhat more reserved culture. Therefore, a lot of international students think of the English as being not very friendly when compared to Americans. This may have more to do with the “multiculturalism” problem you speak of.

    In fact, the Muslims I met in the UK (some of which were British citizens) were EXTREMELY fond of Western culture, and also open-minded. Let’s do away with stereotypes and look at the reality, shall we?!

    Some of my friends know quite a bit about their religion- Islam- but are hesitant to share the details with me, and I’m not quite sure why.

  7. Here we go again with the concept that people have to respect someone’s religion 🙂

    The entire premise is illogical. The fact that a person does not belong to a religion by default means he/she does not respect its teachings, its icons, its dogma, institutions, etc.

    All what should be expected is for people to respect the right of an individual to believe and practice any religion he/she may choose, with no persecution or vilification. That also goes for the believe in no religion.

    Also, no person of any religion should expect others not to criticize his/her religion as long as that is done in a none violent way.

    If the above is observed there is no need for the intellectual acrobatics marketed as interfaith dialogue.

  8. @MOQ,
    That seems to make sense. 🙂 I am all for freedom, as long as it does not have a negative impact on others’ right to the same freedoms. If someone wants to believe in a god, in no god, in multiple gods, I think that is their business. Just so long as they are alright with others having the same freedom.

  9. Thankfully my Syrian friends were fine with my sharing my faith and I enjoyed hearing about theirs. I love that I learned about Islam from Muslims and not (only) from some skewed perspective. I think there should be more open discussions so people can better understand others’ outlooks on life. I have found it very helpful.

  10. So, Carol, what you are suggesting are interfaith dialogues to be held all across Saudi Arabia …. between Wahabi extremist muslims and progressive christians ?????

  11. MoQ…

    I agree with you fully and I think in the West there is a greater likelihood of an acceptance of “whatever” people want to (or don’t want to ) believe.

    That is why I would love to see interfaith dialogue come to the M.E. MORE than the west…I think they need it much worse than westerners. That is the reason I think the Vienna thing would have been money better spent in the Muslim world teaching them that there are other faiths (not jsut Abrahamic) in the world (or no faith at all) and even if one doesn’t agree with that it doesn’t negate another’s rights to their personal beliefs. That is a concept that I think the west understands MUCH better than the Muslim world.

  12. I live in Saudi. We who are not Muslim have to worship in secret or risk arrest. By God’s grace, I live on a Western compound where we can have Bible study and worship services.
    How sad it is to be a Shite in Saudi. In Saudi, being Muslim is NOT enough, to be considered a “real” Muslim, you must also be Sunni. Unlike in Christianity where Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Lutherns and any other sect, all live and work side by side and there is no discrimination.
    How am I to believe Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance when I see so little of either in the Home of the Two Holy Mosques?

  13. I can’t see interfaith anything happening in KSA. I’ve never been asked by a Muslim (outside of Canada) about my religion. I’ve been asked if I want to learn about Islam in ME countries but that’s the extent of religious discussion or questions. Even in the papers my husband brings home from the mosques here interfaith dialogue is talked about but only in the terms of ‘educating’ non-Muslims about the religion. NEVER do I read or hear that Muslims should learn about other religions.

    My husband constantly talks about how much he is learning about his own Muslim religion here in Canada because he is free to read and discuss all aspects of it. We have just finished reading a very well-written and researched book called After the Prophet: The Epic story of the Sunni-Shia spit in Islam. He said he had learned a little of the history in school, etc. but not the whole story and it has caused his eyes to open. That is just one book he’s read that has educated him a bit more about his own religion that are available to him here in Canada.

    I really agree with Jay and MoQ!

  14. Wendy that is very interesting what you say…that for Muslims interfaith Dialogue is a one way street to educate non Muslims…so the Vienna Center is really a big prostelytizing center I guess. and it might explain why I.D. seems to be only pushed in Western countries. Although someone (a non Muslim American) once told me that the King has taken steps (maybe baby steps??) to have it in KSA? Carol or Linda maybe you could shed light on that.

  15. Wendy. I am glad your husband is learning about Islamic history. It is fascinating. The story of Umayyads, Abbasids, the Rashidun caliph’s and the Sunni-Shia split are a great human drama – religious issues aside. There were certainly some very colorful characters involved and we live with lingering side-effects of events long in the past. I can see why this subject is not taught too much in Saudi schools. I am going to look for that book.

  16. Jay, the author is Lesley Hazleton. She is currently writing a book about Mohammad and has written books about Jezebel and Mary. She has a blog called The Accidental Theologist and describes herself as a Jewish Agnostic. She had given talks in TED. If you have not acquainted yourself with TED on-line talks I’d highly recommend it to anybody and everybody. Lesley’s blog is quite engaging as well.

  17. I should also add that Lesley Hazleton reads and writes Arabic fluently. She did research for the above book in both English and Arabic using the Quran and other research books in both languages. She blogs quite a bit about Islam, women’s issues, other religions and issues, politics – right now she is having a lot to say about what’s happening in Egypt.
    I like this blog post:-
    and then there is this TED Talk on ‘reading the Quran and it’s only about 9 minutes long :-

  18. Wendy…

    Thanks for the video. She is quite compelling to listen to.

  19. Obviously Karen Armstrong’s long lost twin sister!

  20. I wonder why people like Linda live in Saudi?!

  21. I live in Saudi because it is where my husband works. When I moved to Saudi almost 9 years ago, I believed what I had been told and read about Islam being a religion of peace and tolerance. Then I saw for myself. Safiyyah, can you tell me I am wrong about other religions not being able to openly worship? Can you tell me I am wrong about the persecution and discrimination against the Shites?

  22. I honestly don’t find much difference inthe ultimte goal of allr eligions, however i don’t delve too much into theology and all religions so at this point i’m more of the “to each his own” , i’ll respect your faith you respect mine.

    This itself seems to not be possible.

  23. As long as the Arab nations continue their incitement against Christians and Jews, from the pulpit of their educational system, using them as scapegoats to entertain and distract their people from the thievery commited by their leaders nothing will be achieved. No democracy, no Peace w/Israel or Copts.
    The hypocrisy of the English speaking media in accepting any kind of “cute statement” about democracy and peace in English and ignoring the Arabic statements on the same subject is not only apalling but outright disgusting.

    The Arab world has to change their educational system and use all the energy they put into incitement and channel that energy into real , education.

  24. Linda is correct that to worship any other faith than Islam in Saudi Arabia it must be done privately. I don’t want to comment on persecution or discrimination of Shi’ites but will say that there are distinctions in practice of Islam.

    Which of course segues back to Linda’s original comment about observations on differences of practices in Islam within Saudi Arabia as compared to other places in the world.

    Interesting food for thought…

  25. Jerry,
    Some of the news stories on muslims in fact are fake. So are some of the “converts” making the rounds of christian churches. There is a lot of money to be made these days spreading hatred of Islam in America. This is sad as we have the freedom here to really explore our faith. I have always wondered how muslims are supposed to deal with Jesus and some of his commandments like “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Also, it says in the Quran to obey Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) but it also says to obey Jesus (pbuh). It seems to me that through ID we could all “know eachother” and deepen our faith.

  26. @AJ: The Qur’an tells believers to obey Jesus, and yet what does it say about His teachings? Aside from Jesus saying Allah is one, the Qur’an is mum about anything else that Jesus taught. It is already well-known that Muslims generally consider the Bible as a corrupt text, so even if the Qur’an mentions the Torah and the Injeel (Gospels), one cannot really hope for a Muslim to open the New Testament to read about Jesus.

    The point is, the major religions are not the same as many would like to think. The devil is in the details, if I may use that expression ironic as that may be. 🙂

  27. Here’s something refreshing and an example about “Outreach Across Faiths”: CHRISLAM. It is a blend of christianity and islam.

    From what I have read and heard, it has lost a lot of steam/momentum since its inception a few years ago. The infighting started when muslims refused the use of their mosques to christians for joint services because they disallowed crosses and jesus statutes into the mosques.

    Here is an interesting article on Chrislam:

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