Jordan’s King Abdullah II, whose interfaith efforts over the past year impressed Catholics, Jews and Muslims alike, will have a supporting role at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast, according to a key aide.
Although he would not be the first Muslim to speak at the annual event at the Washington Hilton, he will have a bigger role than his predecessors, said Joseph Lumbard, special adviser to the king for interfaith affairs.
Plans are to have the king offer a prayer or say a few words at the Feb. 2 breakfast, then give the keynote speech at a lunch for evangelical leaders that same day.
“It will be the king’s first major address in the United States after the [Nov. 9] Amman attacks,” Mr. Lumbard said, referring to the triple suicide bombings that killed about 60 people. “His position is not that there is a clash of civilizations, but, as the attacks in Amman illustrate, there’s an attack on civilization as such.”
Sources familiar with the breakfast say the king’s aides have been quietly looking for months for ways Abdullah can make contact with the leaders of America’s 50 million evangelical Christians, a group that claims President Bush as an adherent.
During a 10-day swing through the United States in September as a spokesman for a tolerant Islam, Abdullah met with several dozen rabbis in the District, visited Riverside Church in New York and spoke at Catholic University.
His speech inspired Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick to respond with a reciprocal prayer “in the name of Allah.”
But the evangelicals remained untouched. The king’s aides began putting out calls.
“We have made a lot of contact with evangelicals,” Mr. Lumbard said. “But none of that has been in the public eye. We’ve been exploring our common ground so when we speak to one another in a public forum, no one steps on each other’s toes.”
A spokeswoman for Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, who is co-chairman of the breakfast with Sen. Mark Pryor, Arkansas Democrat, confirmed that Abdullah was on the guest list, but did not specify a role.
Jordanian Embassy spokeswoman Merissa Khurma said “nothing is confirmed from our end,” partly because of the uncertainties of Middle East politics, which could sideline a visit at the last minute.
“There will be a lot of unofficial meetings,” Mr. Lumbard said. “You know how it is in the Middle East. Nothing is held until it happens.”
Richard Cizik, the vice president for government policy for the National Association of Evangelicals, who has been involved in dialogue with Moroccan Muslim leaders, applauded the choice of Abdullah as a speaker.
“Evangelicals need to hear from the king,” he said. “The king of Jordan has been a supporter of this administration’s war in Iraq, which has not won him many points in the Muslim world, as I understand it.”
The choice of speakers at a National Prayer Breakfast is a closely guarded secret within the low-profile Virginia-based Christian group that organizes the event. Known by several names, including the Fellowship Foundation, the group had developed the gathering into a multiday conference.
But the main show is the invitation-only breakfast, which stars the U.S. president. This year, it is scheduled to draw 3,600 people, including heads of state, members of Congress and foreign legislatures, Cabinet secretaries and ambassadors.
Past attendees have included numerous Muslims, including Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia in 1988. Bandar, who was the kingdom’s longtime ambassador to the United States, read some verses from the Koran about Jesus for the assembly.