King Hamad: Diversity is natural way of life in Bahrain

Bahrain's King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa looks on during his meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on August 26, 2010. AFP PHOTO/KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Manama: King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa said that Bahrainis were happy and comfortable living in a multicultural and multifaith society as they have, for centuries, grown up with neighbours of all faiths, all cultures and all ethnicities.

Such a background has enabled them to recognise diversity as a natural and normal way of life in Bahrain, King Hamad said in an opinion piece published by the Washington Post today.

“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,” he wrote. “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. 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.”

King Hamad added that some people might find such facts surprising, but not the hundreds of millions of peace-loving Muslims around the world.

“We composed the declaration 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 Centre.”

The declaration was launched in Los Angeles amid global commitment to fostering peace and stability across the world.

“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.”

However, in Bahrain, religious diversity is seen by Bahrainis as a blessing.

“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.”

Hoda Nonoo made international history when served as the Bahraini Ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2013. No Jewish ambassador represented an Arab country in the US before her.

King Hamad said that Bahrain is stronger thanks to its diversity.

“I believe our world will be more secure and more prosperous when we learn to recognize the beauty of these differences and how they can teach us many lessons, including the lesson of religious tolerance. Religious freedom should not be viewed as a problem but rather a very real solution to many of our world’s biggest challenges and especially terrorism, which knows no religion and threatens all peace-loving people.

We firmly believe this evil can only be eradicated by the power of true faith and love, and this is what compelled us to write the Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration as a serious document calling for pluralism, which “unequivocally rejects” compelled religious observance, and condemns acts of violence, abuse and incitement in the name of religion,” he said.

“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.”

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