Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Stephan Baier
08 May 2009

Tagespost: Today, Christians are a small minority in your country, but Jordan is a land of the Bible and the early church. What does that mean for your country today?

King Abdullah: We are proud of our Christian citizens and their contributions to their country. We are also proud of our heritage of tolerance and co-existence. Jordanian Muslims and Christians have always lived side-by-side in a spirit of respect and cooperation. Jordanian Christians have played a major role in the development of the country. They are represented in government, Parliament, the army and every other aspect of life. Jordanian Christians continue to do their share in the development and progress of their country. And we believe that this truly magnificent example of understanding and respect among Christians and Muslims can be an inspiration for all. And as you know, Jordan has enjoyed very good relations with the Vatican for decades. Rania and I have been honoured to visit the Vatican and to have received Pope John Paul II here in Jordan in 2000, and we are honoured that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI will begin his pilgrimage to the Holy Land here in Jordan. Along with all Jordanians, I look forward to welcoming him and to expanding the dialogue between us.

His Holiness has been particularly welcoming of one of our interfaith initiatives, called "A Common Word". This is a pan-Muslim initiative that started here in Jordan as a declaration of the common ground between Islam and Christianity. This common ground – love of God and love of one’s neighbour – we believe, is the best foundation for dialogue and understanding.

Tagespost: In some countries of the Middle East, Christians are discriminated against. How does the peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims work in your country?

King Abdullah: In Jordan, Muslims and Christians have lived together since before the founding of the state. Coexistence is the natural state of affairs for us, and Muslims and Christians participate in all aspects of life as equals, on the basis of one’s ability, merit and dedication. I am not exaggerating when I say that relations between Christian and Muslim citizens in Jordan are an example for all, and a proof that religious plurality is truly enriching. We are obviously against all kinds of discrimination and we urge every body to build on the common values and heritage that bring all the faithful together.

Tagespost: Pope Benedict is very active in inter-religious dialogue. Could this dialogue bring peace and justice for the Middle East?

King Abdullah: Here, I’d like to commend the work His Holiness is doing with the Arab and Muslim countries to promote peace and interfaith dialogue, including here in Jordan. His Holiness will be the first Pope to visit a mosque in Jordan, and this gesture is appreciated by all Jordanian Muslims. He will be received at the King Hussein Bin Talal Mosque by several Jordanian religious scholars and leaders for a discussion on interfaith issues. Presidents of Jordan’s universities and members of the diplomatic corps have also been invited to participate in the dialogue with His Holiness.

I should add here that throughout our region, Pope Benedict’s Easter address was noted for its emphasis on reconciliation and on sincere efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Vatican has never shied away from using its moral authority to speak clearly about this conflict – whether in drawing attention to the vast human suffering in the Palestinian territories or emphasizing that justice and security for Israelis and Palestinians can only come through a two-state solution to this conflict. In Jordan, the clarity with which the Catholic Church speaks on these issues is greatly appreciated.

As for your question, interfaith dialogue does have a very important role in the Middle East. Although conflict in our region is political, misunderstanding between religious communities is making it more difficult to resolve some of these issues. In the worst case scenario, some political entrepreneurs and extremists exploit this misunderstanding to aggravate or initiate conflict for self-interested reasons – sometimes with the possibility of turning a political conflict into a religious one. This is something that we absolutely cannot permit, because religious conflict is much more dangerous and much more difficult to resolve. We all need to do every thing we can to build more bridges of understanding and consolidate the culture of respect for the other. We are proud to be the source of the Amman Message, which seeks to promote Islam's core values of tolerance and peace.

We also need to sustain and increase interfaith dialogue in order to preserve the cultural and spiritual heritage of all the great faiths, whose roots are in this region. Specifically, I am talking about Jerusalem, which is holy to all of us, and which must remain open to all faiths. This is an area where Jordan, as custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem, and the Vatican can and must work closely, because today we see a number of Israeli actions that are undermining the city’s Islamic and Christian identity and threatening its Muslim and Christian population.

Tagespost: What is your personal hope for the Pope's visit to Jordan?

King Abdullah: I hope that His Holiness’ pilgrimage to the Holy Land will be an enriching spiritual journey. Certainly, it will be another milestone in the relationship between Jordan and the Vatican, and I hope that our partnership will be strengthened by this visit so that we can continue to bridge the gaps in interfaith understanding and strengthen the call for peace, justice and security in our region. His Holiness is a welcome guest in Jordan and we will do every thing we can so that he feels at home. We do hope that his message of peace will resonate across the region in these critical times.

Tagespost: Do you think that Muslims, Christians and Jews could find a common agreement on human rights, justice and tolerance?

King Abdullah: Of course, I do not want to belittle or minimise the significance of some of the serious challenges to interfaith harmony or the challenges to human rights, justice and tolerance. But I do think it is worth bearing in mind that, in fact, agreement on these principles is the norm in our world – although there are a lot of people who want us to believe otherwise, or who would like to make it otherwise.

The scripture, doctrine and teachings of the three great monotheistic faiths are remarkably similar when it comes to these issues.

I believe that the challenge of people of true faith is to stand up and answer people who are hijacking faith in order to pursue dubious political aims. We must all work to ensure that all peoples live in peace and dignity and freedom.