(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The second Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions wound up yesterday in the Kazakhstan capital Astana with a decision to reconvene in Astana in 2009. A succession of Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and other religious heads from 29 countries repeated similar messages of inter-religious harmony during the two-day parley - but Iranian delegation head Ayatollah Sadiki Roshed declined to meet with his Israeli counterparts.
An Arabic speaking reporter from the Hebrew daily Ha'aretz approached the Ayatollah and shook his hand, but once he introduced himself as an Israeli, the Iranian walked away.
An Egyptian journalist at the conference told The Jerusalem Post that the Ayatollah took offence that the Jewish delegates used the event to "talk politics and accuse Muslims."
During his address on Tuesday, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger called on Islamic leaders to help to secure the release of kidnapped IDF soldiers Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.
Metzger also met privately with an Egyptian cleric late Tuesday night.
"We held a meaningful and fruitful discussion about the kidnapped soldiers. [Egyptian cleric] Mr. Tantawi holds considerable influence in the Muslim world. I invited him to come to Al-Quds as my guest. He said that he will consider the invitation," Metzger told The Jerusalem Post.
A Pakistani delegate, Dr. Mahmoud Ahmad Ghazi, echoed the Iranian's concerns to the plenum. "We cannot speak about some issues and ignore others. How many Palestinian children have been orphaned and how many women widowed?" asked Dr. Ghazi.
The Israeli delegation heads did not press the issue. "I don't think the time is right to meet the Iranian representatives," Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar told journalists on Tuesday evening.
Throughout the two-day parley, white-turbaned mullahs, orange-clad Buddhists, red scull-capped Bishops, black-clad rabbis and similarly colorful religious leaders repeated similar messages of mutual understanding.
Rabbi Amar addressed the conference on Wednesday, repeating similar messages of conciliation voiced by other religious leaders. "My dear brothers, every leader has an effect on his people - more so religious leaders. We must be careful in our words and thoughts, and respect each other's religions and opinions. Israel's wars with some of its neighbors must not be linked to Jews and Muslims. No religion in the world will allow bloodshed and terror. It is our duty to reject such thoughts. I suggest that our children's books educate towards peace, and religious leaders should always include world peace and mutual understanding in their sermons."
Dr. Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq, Egypt's Minister of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs, told the delegates that "there must be recognition of the diversity of opinions in the human community. Islam recognizes human rights and promotes mutual coexistence. This conference represents a way forward towards mutual understanding, thereby preventing conflicts, [because] religious leaders enjoy the confidence of their followers."
Not one of the several dozen speakers at the two-day conference was a woman.