Interfaith Conference Organized by Group With Terror Links

By Patrick Goodenough | July 11, 2008 | 4:37am EDT

An international interfaith conference taking place in Madrid next week is hosted by a Saudi charity that is affiliated with organizations blacklisted by the U.S. government for bankrolling terrorist groups.

( – An international interfaith conference taking place in Madrid next week is being hosted by a Saudi charity that is affiliated with organizations blacklisted by the U.S. government for bankrolling al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups.
Among those invited to attend the gathering organized by the Muslim World League (MWL) were former Vice President Al Gore and senior figures from the world’s leading religions. Gore's office said Friday it had "declined that invitation some time ago due to a scheduling conflict."
The high-profile July 16-18 event will be opened by Saudi King Abdullah, who laid the groundwork with a preparatory meeting -- also organized by the MWL -- of Sunni and Shi’ite leaders in Mecca last month.
The MWL’s invitation list for the Madrid event includes 170 participants, among them  Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Vatican’s head of inter-religious dialogue Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, and Rabbi David Rosen, the head of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee. Attendance has not been confirmed.
MWL secretary-general Abdullah Al- Turki told the Saudi Press Agency that the conference would seek “to isolate those forces that try to promote hatred and create conflicts.”
“By holding this major gathering of religions, ideologies and civilizations, the MWL wants to emphasize the importance of religion for humanity,” he said.
But the Mecca-based MWL, which has close ties to the Saudi government, is itself highly controversial.
The league is one of the so-called “big four” Saudi charities whose activities have been exercising U.S. officials dealing in terrorism funding since 9/11. The others are the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and al-Haramain – both constituent bodies of the league – and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY).
In August 2006 the U.S. Treasury Department -- under a post-9/11 executive order -- designated branches of the IIRO in Indonesia and the Philippines for channeling funds respectively to Jemaah Islamiah and Abu Sayyaf Group, both affiliated to al-Qaeda.
In the designation, the department says the IIRO is also known as “The Human Relief Committee of the Muslim World League.”
The Treasury Department also designated 13 al-Haramain branches across the world, including one in the United States. Last month it added to the list al-Haramain in its entirety, including its Saudi headquarters. It said the organization had provided financial and material support to al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.
Designation under Executive Order 13224 aims to disrupt funding to terrorists. Americans are prohibited from engaging in transactions with those listed, and any assets they may have in the U.S. are frozen.
In mid-2005, undersecretary in the department’s office overseeing terrorist financing Stuart Levey said that Saudi charities, especially the MWL, IIRO and WAMY, “continue to cause us concern,” a position reiterated in Senate testimony later that year by Daniel Glaser, deputy assistant secretary in the same office.
Apart from links to terror financing, the MWL also is accused of spreading the kingdom’s strict Wahhabi brand of Islam through schools and mosques abroad. Wahhabism, named for an 18th century scholar, opposes diversity within Islam and is especially intolerant towards Shi’ites.
Set up in 1962, the MWL’s stated objectives include “the propagation of Islam,” “refutation of dubious statements and false allegations against the religion,” and “convincing people [of] the necessity to obey the commandments of [Allah].”
It enjoys observer status in various U.N. bodies and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
‘Islam has a solution’
Saudi Arabia is one of just two countries where, according to the State Department’s annual global assessments, basic religious freedom does not exist. (The other is North Korea.)
Yet Abdullah has become a leading proponent of interfaith dialogue, and last November he held a historic meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.
He first announced the plan for an international interfaith gathering last March, when he told a visiting Japanese cultural delegation that such a dialogue was needed to promote world peace.
However, some skeptics view the Madrid conference as a Saudi exercise in da’wa, the term used in Islam for proselytizing or issuing an invitation for non-Muslims to come to the faith.
Addressing the preparatory conference in Mecca last month, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz Al al-Sheikh – the kingdom’s top religious authority – stressed that converting people to Islam was the primary goal of interfaith dialogue.
“It is the opportunity to disseminate the principles of Islam,” the Guardian newspaper quoted al-Sheikh as telling the delegates. “Islam advocates dialogue among people, especially calling them to the path of Allah.”
At the end of the Mecca conference, the participants issued a statement saying that the meeting “has been held at a time when the world faces countless challenges that threaten the very existence of mankind. The conference affirms that Islam has a solution to these crises …”

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