Different faiths can promote unity and coexistence

Written by H.E. Dr. Shaikh Khalid bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa on 27 November 2018 in Opinion Plus
Opinion Plus

Interfaith dialogue unlocks moderation, mutual respect and understanding

Photo credit: Bahrain Ministry of Information Affairs


Bahrain is home to diverse faiths, with people of different religions and beliefs living alongside each other in peace.

Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Baha’is and more have been friends, neighbours and workmates in Bahrain for centuries.

Coexistence is not an ideal for Bahrainis. It is not a trend, an economic convenience or a talking point of some educated elite. It is part of Bahrain’s identity.

Why, when much of the world sees religion as a divisive force, do Bahrainis find their different faiths a source of strength? Perhaps the answer lies in a cosmopolitan outlook nurtured by trade.

Bahrain’s history as a trading hub goes back to the dawn of history – Dilmun, the ancient antecedent of Bahrain, traded with the Sumerians of Mesopotamia and the Harappans of the Indus Valley many thousands of years ago.

In more recent history the pearl trade sent Bahraini merchants far afield, and brought merchants from around the world to us.

Familiarity with different ways of life and of different beliefs, so crucial to the successful trader, dispels the fear of difference.

"Coexistence is not an ideal for Bahrainis. It is not a trend, an economic convenience or a talking point of some educated elite. It is part of Bahrain’s identity"

It is for this reason His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa said, “Ignorance is the enemy of peace, it is, therefore, our duty to learn, to share, and to live together, by the tenets of faith in the spirit of mutual respect and love.”

It is a principle the Al Khalifa Royal Family has championed for many years. Two centuries ago, the oldest Hindu temple in the Arabian Gulf was founded in Manama. In the 1930s, a synagogue was established – Bahrain still has the only synagogue in the Gulf region.

Bahrain today is home to churches and temples for Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists as well as hundreds of Sunni and Shiite mosques.

Trade and commerce, science and education have flourished under the policies of tolerance promoted by the Al Khalifa Royal Family during the foundation of modern Bahrain in the 18th century – policies that have continued to this day.

His Majesty King Hamad is further developing the principles of acceptance long treasured in Bahraini society. In June this year, on land he donated, construction began on the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia – due to become the largest church in the Arabian Peninsula.

Last year the Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration set out core principles of faith and peaceful coexistence. It recognised that religious faith and expression were inalienable human rights, and that when religion was used to spread hate, it could only be counteracted by interfaith dialogue and sharing of knowledge to strengthen mutual understanding.

"Trade and commerce, science and education have flourished under the policies of tolerance promoted by the Al Khalifa Royal Family during the foundation of modern Bahrain in the 18th century – policies that have continued to this day"

It called on those of spiritual and temporal authority to do more, to respect and protect religious minorities, to demonstrate that moderation is more devout than extremism. It declared that everyone has an active role to play in developing an inclusive environment of mutual respect and cooperation.

The Declaration, while it acknowledges the evils of extremism, is yet an extraordinary document of positivity and inclusiveness

This year, following a number of interfaith dialogue events, His Majesty announced the establishment of the pioneering King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence to help foster the principles laid down in this Declaration.

The Centre is the world’s leading meeting place for dialogues, conferences and events relating to religious freedom, interfaith dialogue and peaceful co-existence as a way to combat terrorism, violence and hatred.

To help provide the insight of rigorous, enlightened academic research into these issues, His Majesty endowed the King Hamad Chair in Interfaith Dialogue and Peaceful Co-Existence at Rome’s Sapienza University, one of Europe’s most prestigious universities, with a history dating back to the 14th century.

The chair, inaugurated earlier this month, is the first of its kind. At the opening ceremony, the university’s Professor Alessandro Saggioro noted that interfaith dialogue and coexistence are essential in ensuring economic, political and social freedom.

In September, Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa, Bahrain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs told the United Nations General Assembly that Bahrain “will never abandon its role in consolidating the values of coexistence and the principles of dialogue between states, peoples, cultures and religions.”

Bahrain is the epicentre of religious understanding and coexistence in the region, and it will continue to be the beacon of respect, peace and harmony it has always been, under the leadership of His Majesty King Hamad.

About the author

H.E. Dr. Shaikh Khalid bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence

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