King Abdullah interfaith dialogue center opens in Vienna

Updated 28 November 2012
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King Abdullah interfaith dialogue center opens in Vienna

The King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) will promote world peace and serve the humanity, said Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal here yesterday.
Speaking to reporters after attending the center’s opening ceremony, Prince Saud said: “This is a historic day. We hope the center would contribute to bringing people closer and settle their disputes peacefully.”
The opening ceremony was attended by Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo and hundreds of religious leaders.
Prince Saud said he hoped the center would "bring peace and understanding between the various religions. Religion has been the basis for many conflicts."
The center, launched by Saudi Arabia as an international organization with multifaith oversight, aims to help religions contribute to solving problems such as conflicts, prejudice and health crises rather than be misused to worsen them.
"The prime purpose is to empower the active work of those in the field, whether in the field of dialogue, of social activism or of conflict resolution," said Jerusalem-based Rabbi David Rosen, representing Judaism on the nine-seat board of directors.
"We want to empower you," he told an opening session where dialogue projects from Europe, the Middle East and Africa reported on how they worked to foster inter-faith understanding.
The center plans to work first on improving how religions are presented in media and schoolbooks, involving faith leaders in children's health campaigns in poor countries and hosting religious leaders for fellowships at its Vienna headquarters.
Saudi officials at the Vienna conference stressed the dialogue message was being spread back home as well.
"The aim is to promote acceptance of other cultures, moderation and tolerance," said Fahad Sultan Al-Sultan, deputy head of a Saudi national dialogue effort launched in 2003. "There are problems but we have achieved some success."
Board member Reverend Toby Howarth said its international status sponsored by Austria, Saudi Arabia and Spain gave the center several advantages over non-governmental organizations or church groups working on similar issues.
It would have more "pulling power" dealing with government ministers on issues such as improving the way religions are presented in a country's schoolbooks, said Howarth, who is interfaith adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The fact that King Abdullah is the custodian of Islam's two holiest mosques in Makkah and Madinah would "have weight in some Muslim countries", he added.
Spindelegger defended the establishment of KAICIID in Vienna, saying "it is my deep conviction that there is no alternative to this dialogue". KAICIID officials say the center is independent and would not be promoting any one religion.


Called to the barre: Saudi ballet gets its groove on

Ballet’s popularity is growing among different age groups. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 26 min 27 sec ago
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Called to the barre: Saudi ballet gets its groove on

  • Widad Al-Kibsi, a Saudi ballet instructor at the studio, said that people in Jeddah were now familiar with ballet
  • A 13-year-old student at the studio, Oroub Al-Shareef, said that she began ballet when she was 4 years old

JEDDAH: Ballet, one of the world’s most demanding art forms, is enjoying soaring popularity in Saudi Arabia as a new generation discovers its physical, mental and social benefits, and a Jeddah-based studio is at the forefront of the dance’s development in the Kingdom.
Sera McKnass, founder of iBallerina, said that the studio is shaping future ballerinas to be effective members of society.
“The goal is not only to pass on the art of ballet but also to raise up participants into healthy, classy and confident, caring individuals,” the 30-year-old Turkish-Lebanese master teacher said.
Ballet’s popularity is growing among different age groups.
“Mothers sign up their daughters to be trained as ballerinas, but now young adults have dreams of learning how to pirouette, chasse and jete,” McKnass told Arab News. “They come to iBallerina to start the journey and transform their souls and bodies, becoming stronger and more graceful women.”
Widad Al-Kibsi, a Saudi ballet instructor at the studio, said that people in Jeddah were now familiar with ballet. “It's now in most of the main gyms, and private or international schools in the city.”
The 20-year-old advises aspiring ballerinas to start at a young age. “It’s important to start early because improved strength and flexibility are easily acquired at a younger age.”
Ballet offers myriad physical benefits, she said. “It improves muscle tone and definition, elongates arms, and aligns the posture properly.”
Al-Kibsi said that while many Saudis saw ballet as an activity for children, “not a lot of them are aware that adults can also perform. They assume that you should be thin or flexible from the get-go. They don’t understand that with dedication and discipline, ballet strengthens and increases flexibility.”
Dana Garii, a 23-year-old Saudi writer, has been practicing ballet at the studio since February.
“I’ve been wanting to do it since I was young, but I couldn’t find the opportunity. When I found they have classes here, I just went for it. People asked me, ‘aren’t you too old?’ But that’s a myth. People think you can’t do ballet after a certain age, but you can start any time,” she told Arab News.
“Ballet is important to me. It’s more than just the physical aspects — it has taught me how to be modest, and that nothing hard ever comes easy.
“It has also taught me patience and how to take on difficult situations because it’s not only difficult physically but also psychologically. It has taught me how to overcome my fears,” Garii said.
A 13-year-old student at the studio, Oroub Al-Shareef, said that she began ballet when she was 4 years old.
“There was a TV show for kids about the mouse that did ballet (‘Angelina Ballerina’) and it inspired me. I’ve always wanted to be a ballerina,” she said.
“Ballet is very important to me. Dance is one of the ways I express myself and I feel at one with myself when I’m practicing.
“It’s a very hard thing to do, but it brings me so much joy.”
Saudi graphic designer Sara Al-Sabaan, 22, has also been practicing ballet since she was a young child.
“I started dancing in a ballet school in Guadalajara, in Mexico. Then I continued at the Kinetico dance school in Riyadh,” she said.
Al-Sabaan’s mother inspired her to take up the art form. “I’m following in her footsteps. She was a ballet dancer herself.”
The young dancer has watched ballet’s growth in popularity. “Dance classes were available when I was a child, but they have been most popular in the past decade.”
Practicing ballet is a form of self-expression, she said.
“I have danced modern, contemporary and classical ballet, and it affects me immensely. Not only is it a great physical activity, it’s also an outlet for self-expression through movement.”