Bahrain Signs Declaration for Religious Freedom of Individuals

Prince Nasser bin Hamad al Khalifa greets Bahrain Coptic bishop.
Image: Simon Wiesenthal Center

The cause of religious freedom received a significant boost from the Muslim world today. The island Kingdom of Bahrain—connected by bridge to Saudi Arabia—has declared “freedom of choice” to be a “divine gift.”

“We unequivocally reject compelled observance,” states the Bahrain Declaration for Religious Tolerance, released September 13 in Los Angeles with Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders in attendance. “Every individual has the freedom to practice their religion, providing they do no harm to others, respect the laws of the land, and accept responsibility, spiritually and materially, for their choices.”

Prince Nasser bin Hamad al Khalifa of Bahrain signed as an official envoy of the Gulf nation’s king. Johnnie Moore, a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Rabbi Marvin Heir of the Simon Wiesenthal Center also participated, joining ambassadors from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Israel.

“The King is acting decisively, courageously, and seriously,” Moore told CT, also noting Bahraini sponsorship of a religious tolerance center in the capital city of Manama as well as sponsorship of a chair in religious coexistence at La Sapienza University in Rome. “The declaration goes farther than any similar document that I’m aware of.”

Individual religious freedom is just one of the five points asserted in the declaration.

Preaching hatred and violence in the name of God is condemned as a desecration of his name. Suicide bombing, sexual slavery, and the abuse of women and children are specifically disowned.

“Any act that is found morally repugnant by the vast majority of mankind and is insulting to our collective moral conscience cannot be part of God’s revealed will,” states the declaration’s third point.

“We will do all within our power to ensure that religious faith is a blessing to all mankind and the foundation for peace in the world,” concludes its fifth point.

“Even if this is just waving a flag, it is a very positive development,” said Ashty Bahro, a pastor in Dohuk, Iraq, and former chairman of the Evangelical Alliance in Kurdistan. “With such a high-level leader speaking out on the subject, it will encourage Muslims to accept the minorities in the region.”

The declaration comes after months of dialogue in both the United States and the Middle East. It was symbolically signed by the mother of an ISIS suicide bomber in Saudi Arabia as well as one of his victims.

The effort builds upon previous declarations issued from the Muslim world, such as the Marrakesh Declaration (Morocco) in January 2016 and the Jakarta Declaration (Indonesia) in May that same year.

But this declaration is unique in that it is signed by a head of state, as opposed to a collection of scholars.

It also addresses the issue of the individual and his or her rights. Previous declarations stressed the need to protect religious minorities in the Muslim world.

The Marrakesh statement focused on Muhammad’s Charter of Medina as a historic template consistent with the United Nations’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Jakarta statement emphasized the unique nature of Indonesian Islam as welcoming religious diversity.

Bob Roberts, pastor of 3,000-member NorthWood Church in Texas, was a key Christian participant in the Marrakesh statement. It had broader participation and deeper Islamic reflection, he told CT, and is already being implemented legally in some countries.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Jayson Casper