One of the remarkable features of Bahrain is the welcome and openness of the local community towards the Christian Church. The land on which St Christopher’s is built was graciously given by Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa and HM King Hamad has constantly stressed how much he values the presence of the Church in Bahrain.
It is imperative that we maintain good relationships with the Muslim community and respond with the graciousness of hospitality that is shown to us as guests in this country with equal warmth and openness.
For us the springboard for this has been our Living Room Dialogues on a Sunday evening, which provide the opportunity, in the informal setting of a home, to meet, to share food and to enter in to discussion with a variety of people. We were privileged to host Shaikh Salah Al Jowder, Imam of the Grand Mosque in Muharraq.
This was followed by a visit from the Reader Training Group to a gathering at Shaikh Salah”s home, again an opportunity for friendship, food and dialogue.
|In the context of Bahrain in the past eighteen months the question that lives with me is: “are there ways that the Christian community can be a community of reconciliation?” Inevitably this is in small ways but it was a joy to meet together with clerics from Sunni and Shia traditions in a spirit of friendship. Muhammad Al Zekri, formerly Director of the Centre of Cultural Diversity has been instrumental in arranging such meetings. |
|Occasional invitations come to go to a majhlis. On this occasion I went with Jim Harrison, Pastor of the English Language Congregation at the National Evangelical Church. |
|One of the Units of the Reader Training Course is Other Faiths and Robert O’Meara, who was leading the session on Islam, invited two of his students and their fathers (one Sunni, the other Shia) to talk about how their faith impacted on their daily lives. It was a very insightful evening bringing a deeper understanding and friendship and a deep appreciation from our Bahraini friends.It led to an invitation for a group from the Reader Training group to attend a Memorial event in Saar for six Bahraini girls killed tragically in a car accident and at which I was invited to speak, from a Christian perspective, on suffering and death. The event was organized by the Jamri Foundation who was launching an appeal for six scholarships for six girls to attend university in memory of the girls who died. There was such appreciation from both the families of the girls who had died and the wider community that members of the Cathedral had come. |
|At another Living Room Dialogue the young film director Saleh Nass addressed us and showed us some of his short films. He himself has been involved in film productions involving interfaith dialogue and has produced films for conferences in different countries including one organized by the Bishop of London. |
In December 2015 Dean Chris joined Shaikh Abdulla, Undersecretary for International Affairs in Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Nancy Khedouri, a Jewish Member of the Shura Council, who has written a history of the Jewish community in Bahrain on a trip to New York to a meeting on Religious Tolerance in Bahrain at the United Nations arranged by the interestingly named Humpty Dumpty Institute (putting the pieces back together again)
This was followed up in June 2016 with a more diverse group representing Sunni and Shia Muslim, Jewish, Christian Hindu and Bahai communities to the European Parliament. Each spoke from their own perspective of the experience of respect and freedom of worship in Bahrain. At a time when Europe was growing increasingly narrowly nationalist, the message to European Members of Parliament and ambassadors from a variety of countries was received very warmly.
In November 2016, Prince Charles made a visit to Bahrain with the Duchess of Cornwall. One of their visits with the Crown Prince was to the Hindu temple for an inter-faith gathering with representatives of several faith communities
And then there are some wonderful surprises….Christmas Day and a phone call to come into the Cathedral car park…a gift of poinsettias as a “symbol of respect and friendship” for this special Christian festival.
In recent years there has been a tradition of the
Husseini Processions Band (brass instuments and drums) who have joined us at the conclusion of the Christmas morning Holy Communion service. On Christmas Day 2015 they played Amazing Grace, receiving a spontaneous standing ovation and were one of CBS images of Christmas worldwide.
The speaker at the 2017 St Christopher’s Day Dinner was the Deputy British Ambassador, Mockbul Ali OBE, who addressed the subject Keeping Faith in an Unpredictable World. He said that conflicts were often attributed to different religions, but that at the heart of the three religions of the Book was the concern for peace expressed in everyday greetings between people. He also pointed out that men and women of faith were always at the forefront of making peace and seeking reconciliation. He quoted the former UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs on the importance of “the dignity of difference” and that difference was a God-given characteristic. Bahrain was a striking example of a country that respected this dignity of difference with mosques, churches, synagogue and temples alongside one another.