Senior Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders condemned violence by jihadi militants such as Islamic State (IS) at a Saudi-backed conference on Wednesday in a rare display of inter-faith unity aimed at promoting tolerance and diversity.
Islamic State has caused international alarm by capturing large expanses of Iraq and Syria, declaring a Sunni “caliphate” straddling their borders and massacring those they deem apostates and infidel, like Shi’ite Muslims and Christians.
“Some organisations that are affiliated with Islam are perpetrating some actions in the name of jihad. This is not Islam at all,” said Abdullah bin Abdulmuhsen Al Turki, secretary-general of the Muslim World League.
“This is why we wish to deplore and strongly condemn this behaviour, which we see as against Islam,” he told an audience including the Muslim grand muftis of Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan; top representatives of several churches, Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee, and diplomats.
Nizar bin Obaid Madani, Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, decried the emergence of factions in the Middle East “that use terrorism and violence in the name of religion. They are wreaking havoc. They are killing and destroying everything.
“Those who have embraced terrorism unfortunately attribute everything they do, every oppression they practice, to Islam. Islam has nothing to do with them,” he said.
The conference called for countering the messages of jihadi militants on social media used to lure recruits, and for leadership courses in schools, houses of worship and the broader community to spread the principles of diversity and tolerance.
The conference was organised by the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), which is sponsored by Saudi Arabia.
KAICIID has come under intense scrutiny in Austria since it opened in 2012 to fanfare. Critics say the centre has done little to promote religious dialogue at a time when 150 jihadis have left Austria to fight in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia itself enforces a strict Islamic code and bans non-Muslim religious practice. But as the birthplace of Islam and a champion of conservative Sunni doctrine, the country is an important ally for Western countries battling Islamic State and a symbolic target for the militant group itself.