Behind towering religious institutions that stand side by side in Bahrain, is the longstanding history of the peaceful co-existence and religious tolerance that continues to be chaperoned by the Prime Minister HRH Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa through his messages of peace, stability and unity in diversity.
This tolerance that has seen Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhist and members of various denominations enjoy unrestricted freedom of worship in the Islam nation dates back to over 200 years ago when the ruling family, that included the late Emirs Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa and Shaikh Isa Bin Salman Al Khalifa, opened the country to members of different faiths, gave them land to build their places of worship, donations and protected their beliefs by entrenching them in the constitution.
The first Catholic church in Bahrain, the Sacred Heart Church, was built on land given by the late Emir Shaikh Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa in 1939 and currently serves more than 140,000 Catholics.
St. Christopher’s Cathedral, the seat of the Anglican Bishop in the Gulf, which was built in 1953 to cater for the Anglican community that first set foot in Bahrain in 1890s, was built on land granted by the late Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa and was named after the Patron saint of travelers, pointing to the place and space of travel and welcoming foreigners in Bahrain’s history.
The harmony that has been enjoyed by faithfuls of different denominations, some who have lived in the country for up to six generations, continues to be cultivated by the leadership of Prince Khalifa who is also the leader of government.
Worshippers have no restrictions on practicing their faith without government interference and freely display their symbols of worship like crosses and statues. Bookstores also openly sell religious publications of different denominations without restriction.
To further entrench the spirit of peaceful co-existence, the Prime Minister has championed a raft of interventions that have accommodated religious leaders in government to contribute in matters that touch on their beliefs and in nation building while working with them in preaching the harmony gospel across the country.
“Bahraini society is based on cooperation and compassion among its citizens and residents, as well as their freedom, equality, security, tranquility, social solidarity and equal opportunities. These are the pillars of society guaranteed by the State,” Prince Khalifa said.
For the first time last year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the creation of an ambassador-at-large position for peaceful coexistence and religious freedom and in 2008, Bahrain became the first Arab nation to assign a Jew to serve as an ambassador to the United States.
The world has recognized and celebrated this unity in diversity. In 2017 Bahrain was voted the most religiously tolerant country in the Middle East by the Heavenly Culture World Peace Restoration of Light (HWPL), an international organization that promotes religious tolerance all over the world. “What we have seen and experienced in Bahrain has been excellent. In Bahrain, it was very easy because all the religious communities were operating independently with utmost ease. The religious freedom and togetherness in Bahrain is amazing,” said Vicky Kim HWPL Middle East General Manager wile releasing the findings.
Open Doors USA, a global institution that runs an annual list of top 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted, earlier this year hailed Bahrain for its efforts at allowing religious pluralism and noted that the country represented change while being a model for tolerance in Middle East.
“I want to commend Bahrain. Thank you to the royal leaders and the royal family and the government there for what they have done in the last several years. I think it could be a model within that region for how it could be done,” Open Doors USA CEO David Curry said in a press conference.
And as the wave of religious extremism sweeps across the globe targeting especially the vulnerable youth, Bahrain government has been quick to stem the spread by introducing a curriculum on citizenship education for all levels in schools. The schools focus on student activities both in and out of the classrooms, alongside initiatives which promote the values of tolerance, moderation, respect for opinion, rejection of fanaticism and extremism, preservation of national unity, and the encouragement of collective voluntary action as well as taking pride in national customs and traditions. These are anchored in campaigns like “Ambassadors of Tolerance and Coexistence,” “Shake My Hands,” and “Planting Love,” among others.
With the success of these numerous interventions at home, the government has now taken the harmony campaign beyond its borders as it seeks to create a united world. Under the patronage of HRH the Prime Minister, the World Peace and Love Association (FOBAL) recently launched the International Day of Conscience at the UN Headquarters in Vienna to advocate for new approaches to co-existence and peaceful mediation of global conflicts.