At the November 13 award ceremony of the 2018 Templeton Prize for contribution to the spiritual dimension of life, Rev. Randolph Hollerith, dean of the illustrious National Cathedral in Washington, DC, invoked one political leader to pay homage to another.
“The struggle for peace and mutual understanding is truly God’s work,” he said, calling attention to a saying and on-grounds statue of Abraham Lincoln. “King Abdullah [of Jordan] has shown us how to truly make it our own.”
The $1.4 million prize, traditionally granted to religious figures, philosophers, and scientists, marks the Templeton Foundation’s goal to be an international catalyst for discoveries relating to the deepest and most profound questions facing humankind.
“It begins with the struggle—the jihad—within ourselves to be the best we can be,” Said Abdullah. “All it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing.” [Jihad means “struggle” in Arabic.]
But just as Lincoln was a spiritually sensitive soul in a country divided by war, so King Abdullah II of Jordan was cited for his faith-based efforts to heal the Muslim nation—and the world.
“His Majesty King Abdullah the Second is a person shaped by temporal and political responsibilities,” said Heather Templeton Dill, president of the John Templeton Foundation, “yet one who holds the conviction that religious belief and the free exercise of religion are among humankind’s most important callings.”
In the wake of the Iraq war, Abdullah was pained at the sectarianism and violence Muslim groups perpetrated against one another. On November 9, 2005, they took aim at Jordan, as coordinated suicide bombings at three Amman hotels killed over 50 people.
The timing suggests deep offense against Abdullah’s leadership.
A year to the day earlier, the king launched the Amman Message from Jordan’s capital. Its three points declared the validity of the eight traditional Muslim schools of jurisprudence, forbade the practice of calling a Muslim an infidel, and set forth criteria for legitimate issuance of legal fatwas.
Eventually over 500 leading Muslim scholars endorsed the document.
But Abdullah did not content himself with peace between Muslims. In 2007 he led the effort to launch A Common Word Between Us and You, addressing the heads of Christian communities around the world.
Assuaging popular fears that Muslims were against Christians, it instead urged dialogue and cooperation around the twin commands to love God and love neighbor, which it declared common to both faiths.
Originally signed by 138 Muslim leaders, it has now been endorsed by nearly 20,000 individuals.
“Abraham pitched a grand tent in which all were welcome,” said Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, president of Zaytuna College in California, in remarks at the ceremony.
“King Abdullah’s work, above and beyond his duties as head of state, is helping to restore that resplendent Abrahamic tent where all are welcome as guests of God.”
Yusuf was joined by Miroslav Volf, founder and director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, and the lead author of the Christian response to A Common Word.
“Muslims and Christians had concocted together a poisonous brew,” he said. “The only instrument powerful enough to confront the differences … are seemingly impotent words.”
But to the words of these declarations, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres added the importance of symbolism and practical help. He praised Abdullah, his “dear friend,” for the proposal to establish the UN World Interfaith Harmony Week, unanimously adopted and held the first week of February.
But in reference to his former role as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, he lauded Jordan’s reception of tens of thousands of refugees, both Christian and Muslim.
“I had to visit governments to ask them to do the impossible,” he said, turning toward the king. “But I would visit your majesty, and the impossible would become a reality.”
Performers at the ceremony included the Dozan wa Awtar choir and Jordan’s National Music Conservatory Orchestra, under the direction of producer and pianist Talal Abu Al Ragheb.
Vocalists included Zain Awad and Emanne Beasha, the nine-year-old winner of Arabs Got Talent.
King Abdullah II joins a group of 47 prize recipients including Mother Teresa, who received the inaugural award in 1973, the Dalai Lama (2012), and Desmond Tutu (2013). Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks won the 2016 Prize. The 2017 Laureate was American philosopher Alvin Plantinga.
Abdullah is the 41st direct descendant of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. Monarch since 1999, he reigns over a population of roughly 10 million, estimated at two percent Christian. His Hashemite family has had custodianship over Holy Land religious sites since 1924.
Templeton Award prize money would be partially given to repair these ancient buildings, the king said, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The rest would be distributed to interfaith institutions in Jordan and around the world.
In his acceptance speech, Abdullah assured his lifetime of effort was to please God, not the world. And like with Lincoln above, he urged the audience on to a greater jihad.
“It is time to do all we can to maximize the good in our world, and bring people together in understanding,” said Abdullah.
“We can create the future of coexistence that humanity so desperately needs. Let us keep up the struggle.”
Please click here for a full video of the award ceremony.