Group Behind Interfaith Conference Has Record of Intolerance

By Patrick Goodenough | July 17, 2008 | 5:03am EDT

Saudi King Abdullah greets the Vatican's representative at a July 2008 interfaith conference as Muslim World League's Secretary-General Abdullah al-Turki right) looks on. (AP Photo)

( – An Islamic body organizing the high-profile international interfaith conference now underway in Madrid has a history of promoting Islamic law (shari’a) and religious intolerance.

Opening the three-day event in the Spanish capital Wednesday, Saudi King Abdullah called for reconciliation and an end to disputes among the world’s religions. Islam is “a religion of moderation and tolerance,” he said.

Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Hindu and representatives of other faiths are participating in the event, which many are calling historic.

Known as the World Conference on Dialogue, the gathering has been organized by the Mecca-based Muslim World League (MWL).

As Cybercast News Service reported recently, the Muslim World League has links to Islamic charities that are subject to U.S. government sanctions for clandestine funding of terror groups.

But some of the organization’s overt political and religious stances also are controversial – particularly given its current undertaking of promoting interreligious dialogue.

The Muslim World League evolved from a conference in 1962 convened by King Saud. It retains close ties to the Saudi government.

From its early years it demonstrated hostility towards non-orthodox forms of Islam such as the Ahmadis (aka Ahmadiyya), a movement that claims millions of adherents in 190 countries, mostly in South Asia and Africa.

A major MWL fatwa published at a 1974 annual conference ruled that the sect was “a subversive movement against Islam and the Muslim world” that sought to destroy Islam.

The resolution declared that all Muslim organizations in the world should declare Ahmadis to be non-Muslims, “oust” them from the fold of Islam, and bar them from entering the holy lands (Saudi Arabia).

They should furthermore be boycotted socially, economically and culturally, not be permitted to marry Muslims, not be entrusted with any position of responsibility in any Muslim country, nor be allowed to be buried in Muslim cemeteries, the MWL declared.

The 1974 ruling, still frequently cited today, had a significant impact on Ahmadis, who already faced persecution in some Islamic countries. In September of that same year, Pakistan amended its constitution to declare that an Ahmadi “is not a Muslim for the purposes of the Constitution or Law.”

Records compiled by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and available on its Web site list by name more than 200 Ahmadis killed for their beliefs, most in Pakistan but also in Indonesia, India and other countries.

Support for jihad, shari’a punishments

In more recent years, the Muslim World League has continued to promote controversial views on religious subjects, shari’a and terrorism.

After a November 2000 session in Mecca, the MWL’s constitutional council issued a statement – released through the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C. – “stressing the importance of applying shari’a in all Muslim countries.”

It also urged all Muslim countries to introduce Islamic education in all academic curricula and to endow shari’a chairs “at universities worldwide.”

The same statement “called for support of the Palestinian jihad” against Israel and said “Jewish war criminals” should be put on trial.

In March 2001, the MWL issued a statement complaining about then Secretary of State Colin Powell’s reference to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The League declared Jerusalem to be “an Arab and Islamic city, not a Jewish one.” In a similar statement in October 2002, the MWL said Jerusalem was “an Arab and Islamic and not a Hebrew city.”

A MWL conference in April 2002 determined that “strict adherence to shari’a” was the foundation of society’s security. According to an official statement, it also “defended the Islamic version of human rights, saying reinforcement of tough penalties against wrongdoers is divinely ordered.” Punishments meted out under shari’a can include the amputation of limbs, stoning to death and beheadings.

In May 2004, Saudi Sheikh Abdallah Al-Muslih, chairman of a MWL commission on the Koran, argued that suicide bombings against non-Muslim enemies were permitted under Islamic law.

“Regarding a person who blows himself up, I know this issue is under disagreement among modern clerics and jurisprudents,” he said, according to a translation provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

“There is nothing wrong with [martyrdom] if they cause great damage to the enemy. We can say that if it causes great damage to the enemy, this operation is a good thing. This is when we talk of Dar Al-Harb. But, if we speak of what happens in Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia … this is forbidden, brothers!” (Islam divides the world into Dar al-Islam, the house of Islam, and Dar al-Harb, the house of war.)

This year, the Muslim World League has been linked to harassment of Christians in Yemen, including converts from Islam.

An article in the Yemen Post in February said the MWL was warning of missionary activities that had succeeded in converting 120 Yemenis in the largest of the country’s 21 governates to Christianity.

The article said the League attributed the success of the missionary campaign to social problems as well as Muslim inattention.

Last month, seven members of a “missionary cell” were reportedly arrested in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida. Yemeni media said one was charged with converting to Christianity and the others with promoting Christianity and distributing Bibles. Apostasy is a capital crime in Islam.

The Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance said the arrests in Hodeida followed “a media scare campaign alleging that Islam is under threat in Yemen due to Christian missionary activities,” citing the Yemen Post report and the MWL warnings.

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