For almost half a century, religious leaders such as Mother Teresa and Billy Graham, plus authors, intellectuals and scientists — including Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Freeman Dyson — have won the prestigious Templeton Prize for work that affirmed life’s spiritual dimensions.

Now that illustrious roster includes its first head of state: King Abdullah II of Jordan, honored by the Templeton Foundation for doing “more to seek religious harmony within Islam and between Islam and other religions than any other living political leader.”

Accepting the award at the Washington National Cathedral on November 13, King Abdullah said that “everything you honor me for simply carries onward what Jordanians have always done and how Jordanians have always lived: in mutual kindness, harmony and brotherhood.”

King Abdullah said he learned in Jordan the “Islam of kindness and mercy, not of madness and cruelty.”

“This is the traditional, orthodox Islam that is the faith of the vast, vast majority of Muslims around the world — 1.8 billion good neighbors and good citizens who are helping build the future … [and] defend Islam against the malignant subminority who abuse our religion,” he said.

In 2004, King Abdullah issued a call known as the Amman Message, which sought to clarify the essential, peaceful messages of Islam. He led efforts to reach out to Christian and other religious leaders, and in 2010 he proposed the United Nations World Interfaith Harmony Week, now celebrated each February. Prizes presented during that week bear his name.

The $1.4 million Templeton Prize was created in 1972 by the American-born British investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton. King Abdullah said he will devote a portion of the prize money to help renovate and restore religious sites in Jerusalem, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and he will donate the rest to humanitarian, interfaith and intrafaith initiatives in Jordan and around the world.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and hundreds of ambassadors, U.S. and Jordanian officials, and faith and civic leaders attended the ceremony in the majestic cathedral.

“King Abdullah calls on us to do far more than tolerate each other,” Guterres told the audience. “His message is one of respect, solidarity and love. And I hope this celebrated award will help to spread that message … even more widely.”