Six years after inheriting the throne, Jordan's King Abdullah II has picked up his father's mantle as a leading voice of moderate Islam, calling for the "quiet majority" of Muslims to "take back our religion from the vocal, violent and ignorant extremists," in a speech yesterday at Catholic University.
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington told the king that "you have said things that we have looked forward to hearing from major Muslim leaders" and, in a reciprocal gesture, offered a concluding prayer "in the name of Allah, the merciful and compassionate."
Abdullah, 43, who was educated at private schools in England and the United States, became Jordan's constitutional monarch with the death of his father, King Hussein, in February 1999.
Along with leaders in Egypt, Morocco and other moderate Islamic states, he has regularly denounced acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam, including the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the July 7 bombings in London. But in the past year, Abdullah has gone further, initiating a legal and scholarly effort to undermine clerics who issue religious rulings that justify violence.
In July, he hosted a conference in Amman of 180 scholars from 45 countries, representing all major branches of Islam, including the Wahhabi tradition from which Osama bin Laden has emerged. The conference's final declaration unanimously condemned the practice of takfir, or declaring fellow Muslims to be apostates, and defined the qualifications for issuing a fatwa, or religious directive.
Abdullah's appearance at Catholic University came on the first day of a 10-day visit to the United States and the United Nations General Assembly. Aides said a primary goal of the visit is to discuss the Amman declaration and common religious values with Catholics, Protestants and Jews, including a speech tomorrow at New York's Riverside Church and a question-and-answer session Sept. 21 with U.S. rabbis in Washington.
"The historic significance is, a Muslim head of state is affirming that we are all part of the same religious tradition, the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition," said Joseph Lumbard, the king's American-born adviser on interfaith affairs.
Rabbi Marc Gopin, a professor of diplomacy and conflict resolution at George Mason University, said he believes that Abdullah has "put his own gloss" on the Amman declaration, an "internal Muslim document" that included "a pretty far-right section" critical of the United States and Israel. But Gopin said that, nevertheless, "what I heard today was quite wonderful and bold."
Quoting from the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Gospels and the Koran, Abdullah said all three faiths teach "devotion to the One God and love for our fellow human beings." He called for a "dialogue of deeds as well as words" and said that the "road of moderation, and respect for others, is not one for Muslims alone. All humanity today needs to meet this challenge. That means more than just 'tolerating' each other; it means real acceptance, based on human equality and fellowship."
Before the Catholic University speech, Abdullah and his wife, Queen Rania, met briefly at the District's Banneker High School with about 20 students from four area schools: Banneker, the District's Cardozo High School, the Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville and the Saudi International Academy in Alexandria.
"Over the past 100 years, Islam has been hijacked by fringe Muslim elements," he told the students around a table in the high school library. "We're trying to galvanize the silent majority to stand up and say, 'Enough is enough.' "
He fumbled for words only once, when Deon Myers, 14, a sophomore at Cardozo, asked whether he thought the United States was right to go to war in Iraq.
"In Jordan, we always believe that dialogue is the way to go, but it became obvious leading up towards the war that both sides were . . . unable to find a diplomatic solution to it," he said.
"The thing is, now we have to go beyond that. We want to get Iraqis back to a stable society, and we have many challenges."