After successful reforms, Bahrain is moving forward
Bahrain is sponsoring an international conference in May to encourage interfaith and intercultural dialogue
Bahrain – a small country with a free economy and a government that is friendly to the world – is sponsoring an international conference in May to encourage interfaith and intercultural dialogue. Although perhaps unusual in the region, at the time of many regional conflicts, this kind of outreach and dialogue among Muslims, Christians, and Jews is not surprising in Bahrain, given its long history of interaction with the Western world.
Bahrain hosts the Fifth Fleet of the U.S. Navy, which patrols the waters of the Arabian Gulf and protects world shipping. The United States Government has declared Bahrain a major non-NATO ally, and the two have established a Free Trade Agreement to facilitate better commercial relations. Bahrain is known as an island of rest and relaxation; an oasis of tolerance and economic, religious and cultural liberty, among the nations of the Gulf.
This conference in early May titled “Civilizations in the Service of Humanity: An Inter-Civilizational Dialogue.” The conference brings together representatives from religions and cultures in varying parts of the world, including the Sheikh of Al-Azhar University, the foremost scholar on Islamic thought; and representatives from the Vatican, international Jewish groups, Buddhism, Hinduism, and global NGO’s and humanitarian organizations.
Foster a dialogue
The purpose of bringing these representatives together is to foster a dialogue on the following issues: the importance of mutual respect and understanding among different cultures, and the positive effects of cooperative problem-solving; the important role of religious institutions and religious faith in reinforcing human ties; ways to decrease hate speech and extremist ideology; the importance of pluralism within individual nations and societies; using the rule of law to protect human rights and manage intercultural relations.
Bahrain has a history of religious tolerance, and religious freedom is guaranteed by lawAbdulla Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa
It should come as no surprise to any long-time observers that Bahrain would host such a conference. Bahrain has a history of religious tolerance, and religious freedom is guaranteed by law; there are practicing Christian and Jewish congregations. There are Christian and Jewish Members of Parliament, along with other senior members of the government and diplomatic service.
Bahrain has learned through long experience that diversity of background is a source of strength, if that diversity is embraced and encouraged. Holding this conference is a way to encourage and embrace the diversity in world thought and opinion, in the ongoing human quest for peace and understanding among all peoples of the world. When people turn away from each other, or try to force their beliefs on others, the result is distrust and sometimes even violence. However, when we turn to each, other, understand each other’s beliefs and ideas while preserving our own heritage, we learn from one another, and the result is an increase of knowledge and peace.
The Al-Khalifa family have governed Bahrain since 1783, with justice and stability. King Hamad in particular has steered the country to unprecedented prosperity and liberty, and has provided alternative means of generating income, so that when the oil and gas are no longer available, there will still be an independent Bahraini economy. Bahrain is now moving to confront a more sensitive topic: the interdependence of the nations of the world, in spite of what some analysts call “the clash of civilizations.”
The Kingdom of Bahrain has a long history of multiculturalism, diversity, and co-existence among the peoples of different civilizations. It is time for the world’s religions and cultures to come together, to celebrate what we share rather than what divides us. Only by exploring our common devotion to improving the lives of all humans, can we fulfill the mandates of our own religious and cultural imperatives. It is time for the civilizations to work together, rather than to clash.
Abdulla Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifais the chair of External Communication of The Inter-Civilization Dialogue.