|06JEDDAH493||2006-07-24 11:29:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Consulate Jeddah|
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 JEDDAH 000493
1. (C) SUMMARY: PolOff held a productive discussion about
Islam and the need for greater dialogue with Dr. Hamid
Al-Rifaie, an internationally recognized religious scholar
who lives in Jeddah. He said that he is focused on opening
stable channels of communication that allow Muslims to talk
among themselves and present a more coherent international
message while also finding ways for other nations and
governments to participate in the discussion. He said that
he hopes organizations such as his can work with US officials
to find better ways to communicate an anti-terrorist message.
Al-Rifaie then provided a draft copy of a proposal created
by people he referred to as the "Group of 100 Muslims," who
are prominent international Islamic thinkers that are working
to create a more structured way for Muslims to think through
the priorities of their beliefs and then to live within that
framework. END SUMMARY.
A DESIRE FOR MORE COOPERATION
2. (SBU) On July 3, PolOff met with Dr. Hamid bin Ahmad
((AL-RIFAIE)), an outspoken religious scholar who is
president of the International Islamic Forum For Dialogue
(IIFD) and assistant secretary general of the Muslim World
Congress. Al-Rifaie began by lamenting that he has been
waiting for more consistent interaction with the United
States for a long time. He said that over the past 5 years
he has met repeatedly with US diplomats posted in Jeddah and
visiting from Washington, but that he has never received
feedback on how to better facilitate dialogue. He said that
his main goal is to open stable channels for communication,
adding that he hopes that Washington would assign a "stable
committee" that can work with the IIFD to open an ongoing
dialogue about Islam, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.
3. (U) Al-Rifaie, who has written 24 books on various
aspects of Islam and international relations, stressed that
he sees Islam as sharing common ground with many other
religions, naming Christianity and Judaism, in particular.
He added that Jews and Muslims are "religious brothers"
because they share similar roots, noting that he objects to
Zionism because it is a political distortion of the faith.
Al-Rifaie also said that, regardless of our different faiths,
terrorism is a problem Saudi Arabia and the United States
must deal with. He said that he hopes groups such as the
IIFD can work with US officials to find better ways to
communicate an anti-terrorist message.
OVERVIEW OF PROPOSAL FROM "GROUP OF 100 MUSLIMS"
4. (SBU) When asked about how Islam can be better
understood, Al-Rifaie said that there must be more dialogue
within the faith in order to present a more coherent message
to non-Muslims. He outlined the goals of a group he leads
called the "Group of 100 Muslims," which includes many
prominent figures including fellow Hejazi scholar Sami Angawi
and HRH Prince Al Hassan bin Talal of Jordan. Made up of 100
prominent Islamic scholars and religious thinkers from across
the Arab World, the Group is creating a plan that Al-Rifaie
hopes will serve as a scholarly road map for Muslims to think
about the core values of their faith and then to consider how
to best explain those beliefs and practices to others.
5. (SBU) Al-Rifaie provided PolOff with a draft copy of the
proposal that is being developed by the Group of 100 Muslims,
which he hopes will be released to the public in Fall 2006.
The proposal begins with a call to Muslims to consider
questions such as "Who are we?" and then to evaluate what
sort of relationship they desire with other Muslims and with
people of other faiths. He explained that this portion of
the proposal is aimed at sparking an internal dialogue that
can address the variations within Islam that are often
misunderstood by non-Muslims.
6. (SBU) The second portion of the draft message is based
on Al-Rifaie's idea that Islam strives to both enhance the
spirit and to be a framework for living a better life, which
he refers to as "constructional religion." He explained that
to live an Islam-focused lifestyle, Muslims need to do a
JEDDAH 00000493 002 OF 002
better job of remembering that peace is the "base of
relationship" for all people. He added that concepts such as
the "oneness of the source of religions," the "unity of the
human family," "justice for all," and preserving the
environment should also factor into how Muslims treat all
people, not just other members of their faith.
7. (C) COMMENT: While Al-Rifaie is clearly a very learned
Islamic scholar with contacts all over the world, he comes
across as more focused on exploring the intellectual realm of
Islam than in creating practical plans to solve
religious-based conflict. Nevertheless, Al-Rifaie's
accessibility and broad international connections give him a
window into grassroots movements in Islam and could enable
him to serve as a catalyst for debate, even within the
increasingly conservative religious system in Saudi Arabia.
8. (U) Al-Rifaie, whose title is listed as "Prof. Dr." on
his curriculum vitae, is a scientist as well as religious
thinker. He holds a bachelor of science degree in chemistry
and geology from a university in Damascus, master of science
degrees in industrial organic chemistry from Al-Azhar
University in Egypt and from Surry University in the United
Kingdom, and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Al-Cairo
University in Egypt. He has taught chemistry at King
AbdulAziz University in Jeddah. Al-Rifaie has served on the
Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Coordinating
Committee for Islamic Da'wah Acts, and been a member of the
International Islamic Charitable Foundation, the
International Islamic Foundation in the World, the
International Islamic Council for Da'wah and Relief, and the
International Islamic Committee for Information (IICI).
9. (U) He is a former Secretary-General of the
Islamic-Catholic Liaison Committee, which is a partnership
formed with the Vatican, and he has drafted several joint
letters with Vatican officials that were sent to prominent
world leaders, including the President of the United States
and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He is very
proud of his past interactions with high-level officials from
around the world and makes a point of working into the
conversation the names of leaders and influential people he
has met with. Al-Rifaie is married and has at least three
children. He appears to be in his late 40s or early 50s and
speaks good English.