Bahrain’s unique religious freedom, coexistence experience highlighted at UNGA 75 webinar

Publication Date: 24/9/2020

Source: Bahrain News Agency

His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has saluted the participants in the high-level webinar organised by the King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence, in collaboration with “This Is Bahrain”, hailing the continuous efforts being made to spread Bahrain’s message of peace, tolerance and peaceful coexistence.

Themed “Why Freedom of Religion or Belief Is Vital for Peace? The Kingdom of Bahrain as a Historical Model”, the virtual forum was organised on the sidelines of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 75), currently held at the UN Premises in New York.

The participants, including clerics and representatives of international non-profit organisations, affirmed that the King Hamad Centre for Peaceful Coexistence is taking advanced and extraordinary steps in presenting the unique Bahraini model of peaceful coexistence and respect for religious freedoms. They stressed that it provides a glimmer of hope to all regions and countries of the world in order to follow the Bahraini model so that peace and harmony among different peoples and societies prevail, while respecting human rights, particularly the right of individuals to worship freely and to practise their religious rituals openly, and without any restrictions.

Addressing the webinar, Indian spiritual leader, Sri Ravi Shankar, stressed that religious freedom brings love and peace, and affirms the unity of humankind, calling for unifying the efforts of intellectuals, political decision-makers and religious figures to clarify this fact, and show that religion exists in several languages and different rituals of worship aimed at spreading peace and fostering harmony.

He stressed the need to focus on the language of dialogue and pluralism to ensure peace and reconcile humanity under the banners of love and respect for religious freedoms.

"We must strive for one global community and one global family, and this must be instilled in the minds of youngsters,” he said.

Shankar paid tribute to His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa for kindly opening the kingdom to all religions, and fostering mutual respect and love for different others, affirming that Bahrain’s experience is like a real treasure and wealth for humanity. 

He indicated that HM the King had opened the kingdom to all religions, and paved the way for their followers to perform the rituals of their religions with complete freedom, which reflects the King’s far-sighted vision.

Concluding, the Indian spiritual leader said that the recent peace moves taken by Bahrain, UAE and Israel recently would de-escalate conflicts in the region, describing HM King Hamad’s initiative as a giant step towards peace, reconciliation and comprehensive development in the region.

UK Prime Minister's Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Rehman Chishti, confirmed that Bahrain provides a living example of the extent to which everyone can live together within an atmosphere of mutual love and respect, noting that in Bahrain, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and others live in harmony, and practise their worship without being subjected to any kind of harm.

He recalled his visits to Bahrain, where he witnessed the unique combination of various houses of worship, including the Hindu Temple dating back to 1893, Sunni mosques and Shiite ma’atams (community centres), expressing admiration for HM the King’s directives to teach the values of tolerance and coexistence to students.

 Chishti highlighted the main principles of the Declaration of the Kingdom of Bahrain calling mainly to reject extremism, hatred and violence, and advocate the values of tolerance, mutual respect and acceptance of the other, adding that he is looking forward to building the largest cathedral in the Arabian Gulf region in Bahrain within two years.

 Meanwhile, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, highlighted the tremendous efforts made by the kingdom to promote the best human values all over the world, through the King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence, the “This Is Bahrain” Society, and other initiatives.

 He stressed that what characterises Bahrain –King, government and people- is its focus on deeds and not just words, citing the signing of the declaration supporting peace recently, adding that the kingdom is leading the way in the region thanks to its adoption of mutual respect and acceptance of the other as an approach and continuous roadmap.

“HM the King is a brilliant, inspiring and courageous leader. With his great wisdom, tolerance and great pacifism, he has managed to change the rules of the game in the region, making the Kingdom, despite its small size, a major player in shaping a better future in the Middle East. We, in turn, thank His Majesty very much for his continued generosity and hospitality to all religions, races and ethnicities,” he said.

Second Deputy Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence and President of This Is Bahrain Society, Betsy Mathieson, indicated that religious freedom is among the most important and pivotal human rights, and there can be no just and sustainable peace without it, and for this reason, she said, many countries around the world tend to appoint religious freedom ambassadors and special envoys.

Mathieson asserted that Bahrain is a successful model for religious freedom thanks to HM the King’s wise vision, deep belief in the importance of tolerance, coexistence and forgiveness whenever possible in ensuring harmonious and peaceful life, adding that Manama is home to many houses of worship, and that Bahrain has been and will remain the “Land of Peace”, under the leadership of the “King of Peace HM King Hamad bin Isa”.

Associate Executive Vice President of the New York Board of Rabbis, Rabbi Diana S. Gerson, extended deepest thanks to HM King Hamad for his courage to move forward with peace with the State of Israel, adding that peace can be achieved through inspiration, mutual respect and strengthening love and appreciation among all people and religions.

The Principal Representative of the Bahá'í International Community to the UN, Bani Dougal, said that respect for religious freedom is necessary to achieve peace and eradicate all forms of oppression based religion or belief, noting that Bahrain is distinguished in its long and historical quest for optimising the opportunities for peaceful coexistence, justice and respect for human rights.

 Chief Rabbi Moshe Lewin, from Paris, France, affirmed that Bahrain represents the civilisational diversity and the meeting point of religions and cultures thanks to its extraordinary pluralism and consolidation of the principles of tolerance and peaceful coexistence, revealing that his visit to the kingdom in 2015 has changed his life and most of his ideas, and encouraged him to spread Bahrain’s pioneering experience of acceptance of the different other and consolidation of respect for religious freedom.

He welcomed the recent signing of peace agreements between Bahrain, the UAE and Israel, adding that many other countries and regions will draw inspiration from the historic move and establish peace.

Director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the Archdiocese of New York, Father Brian McWeeney, indicated that countries of the world should adopt Bahrain’s distinguished experience in respecting all religions and creating a peaceful dialogue language among all so that humanity can live in peace and harmony.

Vice President of the Albanian Islamic Cultural Centre and Imam, Dr. Tahir Kukaj, affirmed that justice and peace cannot be achieved without freedom, adding that Bahrain is known for its unlimited giving regarding its humanitarian experience, advocacy of the right and protection of human rights of people, regardless of their affiliations.

Rev. William Devlin described Bahrain as an impressive beacon for religious freedom and peaceful coexistence, and called on everyone to learn from its unique experience, as religious freedom is key to success in reaching peace. He also lauded the Declaration of the Kingdom of Bahrain, noting that the noble humanitarian values enshrined in it will save humanity from hatred and intolerance.

Executive Director of the Interfaith Centre of New York, Dr. Chloe Breyer, asserted that Bahrain’s experience deserves to be implemented in order to accept minorities and pave the way for them to live in harmony and peace, adding that it can be applied in China and India, where minorities suffer from various forms of oppression and discrimination on the basis of religion or sect.

New York-based Hindu cleric, Umang Govind, said that he was born in Bahrain, and has a beautiful experience about peaceful coexistence there, citing the 200-year-old Hindu Temple which bears witness to the kingdom’s long-standing cultural diversity, and peaceful co-existence among all religions, noting that the Royal Family and the government always support the followers of all religions and allow them to practise their rituals freely.


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