Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa has announced the release of an official declaration calling for religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence, in an opinion piece on Tuesday.
In the piece, published on the Washington Times, the king recognized Bahrain’s “multicultural, multifaith society” as a “natural and normal way of life for us in Bahrain.”
“We believe ‘ignorance is the enemy of peace,’ and that true faith illuminates our path to peace. For this reason, we decided to compose the Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration, calling for religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence throughout the entire world.”
The king said the declaration was a natural extension of Bahrain’s national heritage.
“As Bahrainis, we drew from our national heritage as a beacon of religious tolerance in the Arab world during a time when religion has been too frequently used throughout the world as a divine sanction to spread hate and dissension.”
He said the declaration was drawn up “in consultation with Sunni and Shiite scholars, along with Christian clergy and Jewish rabbis, including our friend, Rabbi Marvin Hier of Los Angeles’ Simon Wiesenthal Center.”
Pluralism and religious discrimination
He said the document “calls for pluralism, which ‘unequivocally rejects’ compelled religious observance, and condemns acts of violence, abuse and incitement in the name of religion. For national leaders like myself, the declaration makes it clear that ‘it is the responsibility of governments to respect and protect equally both religious minorities and majorities,’ and that there is no room for religious discrimination of any kind.”
He added that the declaration was a “call for leaders and for the masses.”
The king wrote: “In the Arab world, we need not fear religious pluralism, and the non-Arab world need not fear us. In fact, we need one another, and we must meet one another along a path of mutual respect and love. Perhaps, only then will we find the elusive path of peace we seek.”
King Hamad described religious diversity in Bahrain as a “blessing to our people” and said the kingdom was stronger because of it.
“We welcome our Catholic, Orthodox and evangelical church communities. We are proud that our Hindu nationals can worship in a 200-year-old temple complete with their images, just around the corner from the Sikh temple and the mosques.
“We celebrate our small — but precious — Jewish community, who feel free to wear their yarmulke and worship in their own synagogue, which, we are informed, is the only one in the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, our Jewish community plays a very active role at the highest levels of society, including an ambassador from Bahrain to Washington in 2008, the first Jewish diplomat to the United States from an Arab country. We wanted to protect our religious pluralism for future generations, so we have enshrined this in law, which guarantees everyone the right to worship unhindered in safety and to build their houses of worship.
“Our noble ancestors began this Bahraini tradition of churches, synagogues and temples being built next to our mosques, so there is no ignorance about others’ religious rites or practices. We all live together in peaceful coexistence in the spirit of mutual respect and love, and we believe it is our duty to share this with the world,” the king wrote.