Much odium has been inflicted on Bahrain in the past for all the wrong reasons by way of its rights record and about its efforts to counter the Iran-inspired attempts to create chaos in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring of 2011.
Bahrain made many attempts on various fronts to promote religious tolerance and freedoms. Despite its having implemented the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry to redress a range of complaints, the international rights groups, other institutions and the media have often ignored the positive side of the efforts. Instead, detractors chose to believe and propagate narratives put out by the discredited exiles living abroad on Iran’s payroll.
People should look at the track record of the tiny island state with a history going back to the time of the Phoenicians. In the last century its efforts to promote social and religious harmony and offer equal rights irrespective of gender, nationality or faith have been exemplary in the region. Voting rights for women remain enshrined in Bahrain’s constitution, the country has mosques, churches, synagogues, Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras, with land provided by the government in some cases. Tolerance and benevolence are the two keys to its social harmony.
It is not surprising therefore that Bahrain is setting up King Hamad Global Centre for Inter-faith Dialogue and Peaceful Co-existence, which will be opened in Bahrain in November. The purpose would be to contribute to international discussions on promoting inter-faith dialogue and tolerance.
And lest the effort be lost to the world just because Bahrain is a small enclave in the Middle East whose voice often gets drowned out, The Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration, an international document committed to promoting religious freedom for all, was launched at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles, California, last week.
This document explains to the international community the concept of the centre. American TV personality Mary Hart presented the launch. Present on the occasion was the King’s Representative for Charity Work and Youth Affairs Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa.
The King Hamad Global Centre follows the launch, in November last year, of His Majesty King Hamad’s Chair at the University of La Sapienza, Rome, to teach dialogue, peace and inter-faith understanding.
Speaking in Los Angeles, Shaikh Nasser affirmed that “Peace could only be achieved through understanding and effective participation and … Bahrain recognises the importance of creating an environment conducive for peace by empowering individuals and communities to feel comfortable in their own skins.”
“By promoting religious freedom for all with an emphasis on mutual respect and love, we believe in our ability to achieve a world that thrives on peaceful coexistence, and this day is a reminder to all of us of what we have achieved in promoting inter-faith dialogue and understanding, as well as another reminder of the work we must complete, in combating hate speech and bigotry.”
“When your children play in the park with other children who might identify themselves differently than yours, then you promote coexistence.”
“When you wave ‘Hello’ to your neighbour walking to church on Sunday or to the synagogue on Saturday or to the mosque on Friday then you are active agents for co-existence.”
“It’s those small acts of kindness that turn coexistence to an enshrined part of our DNA, an indispensable part of our beings as humans.”
“I am proud to be a Muslim and an Arab, a human, a citizen of this world. A world where love and respect are second nature and a world where there is no place for hate or violence. A world of peace.”
Bahrain Federation of Expatriate Associations Betsy Mathieson also spoke on the occasion, stating that “for hundreds of years, Bahrainis have embraced their neighbours from various faiths like Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Sikhism and have lived with them in love and harmony, which distinguishes Bahrainis with a special understanding and respect for all religions.”
One hopes the world takes notice of the centre and recognizes Bahrain’s sincere resolve for peace, harmony and religious freedom.