The foreign ministers of Austria, Saudi Arabia and Spain signed the founding treaty of a new international organization designed to foster dialogue between the world's major religions on Thursday.
"The thesis is valid that world peace cannot exist without peace between the world's major religions," Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said during the signing ceremony in Vienna.
The King Abdullah Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, initiated and financed largely by Saudi money, is set to have its seat in Vienna. Plans envision an organization with a governing body composed of 12 representatives from the world's five largest religions.
The governing body is set to be staffed by two Muslims (Sunni and Shiite), three Christians (Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox), a Buddhist, a Hindu and a Jew. The organization will also have a consulting body with 100 representatives from the five world religions plus other faiths as well as academics and members of civil society.
Austria's Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said that the organization's structures are designed to ensure that none of the represented religions dominates the organization. The three founding states are also open to the membership of other countries, according to Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez Garcia-Herrera.
Saudi King Abdullah initiated the idea for the center after visiting Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in 2007, the first Saudi monarch to do so. Shortly thereafter, King Abdullah stated that Christians and Muslims should offer a common message of peace to humanity.
Abdullah then initiated an interfaith dialogue in Mecca in 2008 followed by a second meeting in Madrid with Jewish representation. A third meeting took place in Vienna's Hofburg in 2009, where the concept of the organization was agreed upon.
The Initiative of Liberal Muslims protested Thursday's signing ceremony in Vienna, saying that the center was an attempt by Saudi Arabia to spread a conservative form of Islam.
Author: Spencer Kimball (KNA, dpa)
Editor: Mark Hallam