A rabbi from Jerusalem met with King Salman Ibn Abdulaziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia in the royal palace in the capital Riyadh last week, marking the first time that such meeting has taken place in recent history. The Saudi monarch hosted David Rosen, a rabbi born in Britain who moved to Israel a number of years ago to become the member of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate's Commission for Interreligious Dialogue.
The meeting was held alongside figures representing other faith groups as part of a two-and-a-half-day visit to the Kingdom, during which the board of directors of the King Abdullah International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) gathered. Based in Vienna, the Centre was established eight years ago, but this was the first time that a Saudi monarch has actually invited the board to the palace.
Speaking to the Jerusalem Post, Rosen said, "[The King] invoked the historical and authentic character of Islam as the openness of Islam that was shut down in recent times by political factors." He added that his visit does not create a new reality. "It reflects a new reality, and it is testimony to a new openness in Saudi Arabia."
This is not the first time that such an interfaith visit to Saudi Arabia has taken place, however, as Jerusalem-based Christian interfaith activist Joel C. Rosenberg visited Jeddah with a delegation of American Evangelical Christians last September. Rosenberg praised Rosen's trip and King Salman's hosting of the group, saying: "I think it's enormously significant that the Saudis are continuing to pursue interfaith delegations and dialogue… The meeting between the rabbi and the king is of particular significance, because as far as I know it's the first time the king has met with one of these interfaith delegations."
He pointed out that there is a long way to go, but these are very significant movements. "I hope that the Saudis will continue to build on them; I believe they will."
The meeting comes at a time when the Kingdom has been fostering ever-closer ties with Israel and the global Jewish community as part of its efforts to open itself up to the world and re-assert a more "moderate" form of religion in the Gulf State. It follows other such recent gestures, including the visit to Auschwitz by the secretary-general of the Muslim World League, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, in January, and the visit of a US Jewish umbrella group to Saudi Arabia earlier this month.