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Jordan’s king urges unity among religions on terrorism

WASHINGTON (BP)–King Abdullah II of Jordan, speaking at a Feb. 2 gathering organized by evangelicals, urged Christians, Jews and Muslims to unite around common values and to consider Islamic terrorism as an “attack upon civilization” instead of a “clash of civilizations.”

Addressing the luncheon event of the yearly National Prayer Breakfast, King Abdullah told the audience of about 3,000, most of them evangelical Christians, that terrorists “do not preach the Islam of the Koran or the prophet Muhammad…. Theirs is a repugnant political ideology which violates the principles and statutes of traditional Islamic law.”

“In every generation, people of faith are tested,” the king said. “In our generation, the greatest challenge comes from violent extremists who seek to divide and conquer. Extremism is a political movement, under religious cover. Its adherents want nothing more than to pit us against each other, denying all that we have in common.”

Among the values the three religions share are a belief in one God and in the “Abrahamic scriptures,” as well as the commandments to love God and neighbor, he said.

The speech marked another step in King Abdullah’s recent efforts to provide a different understanding of Islam than that portrayed by terrorists. This was his first address to a large evangelical audience as part of that campaign. In his 13-minute speech, the king quoted the Koran eight times, the New Testament on seven occasions and the Old Testament twice.

The king’s perspective matched that of President Bush, who has frequently referred to Islam as a peaceful religion since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Others, however, have described Islam as a religion that fosters violence and is involved in a clash with the West.

The mostly evangelical audience at the prayer luncheon seemed to welcome King Abdullah’s speech warmly, interrupting it a couple of times with applause and giving him a standing ovation at its conclusion.

Terrorist attacks on the United States, Spain and England “have led some to believe in a clash of civilizations,” the king said. “Nothing could please extremists more; that is their view of reality.”

The November suicide bombing in Amman in his home country that killed more than 50 people, as well as terrorist attacks in other parts of the Muslim world –- such as Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia -– demonstrate this view is false, he said. “Almost every day Muslims are killed by extremists in Iraq,” he said.

“Extremists of any religion who teach intolerance and violence mutilate Scripture to advance their cause,” the king said. He decried the recent attacks on churches in Iraq and the cartoons in European newspapers “vilifying” Muhammad, though he affirmed respect for free speech.

“Together, we have a duty to this generation and many to come to witness to the positive role of faith in public life,” the king said. “Humbled through that faith, strengthened by that faith, we can, with God’s help, create a more just and peaceful future.”

Rich Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, said, “I think most of the evangelicals were for sure pleased by what he had to say. I think the reception he got was extraordinary. He is one of the few leaders who is willing to speak out on these values that we cherish. This is something evangelicals need to understand and support and encourage.”

After the luncheon, the king met privately with about 25 religious leaders. Most were evangelicals.

“I thanked him for his leadership of moderate Islam and for the personal example of courage and diplomacy that he has exemplified, saying as well that evangelical leaders can learn from his example,” Cizik said about the private meeting. “He has stood up to defend the values of democracy, human rights and even religious freedom against those who oppose all three of these premium values. I think the king needs to follow this up by other actions, such as dialogue with evangelicals [in Jordan].”

Baptist Press sought to contact another participant, Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and author of “The Purpose-Driven Life,” but did not receive a return phone call before the deadline for this article.

King Abdullah also attended the National Prayer Breakfast earlier in the day at the same Washington hotel. He commented briefly and prayed.

The king’s efforts to build understanding and promote peace as head of a moderate Muslim state follow the pattern established by his father, King Hussein, who died in 1999 after more than 45 years on Jordan’s throne.

Before his Feb. 2 address, King Abdullah had given similar speeches since September at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.; at Riverside Church, the liberal Protestant bastion in New York City; and to rabbis from all three branches of Judaism gathered in the nation’s capital.

The king “has been very encouraged,” said Joseph Lumbard, the king’s special adviser on interfaith affairs, on the eve of the luncheon speech. “We’ve had an excellent response, particularly from Catholics and Jews.”