With a 5000 year history spanning the civilizations of Dilmun, Tylos and Awal, from which this vibrant modern Bahrain itself emerged, I believe, our island-nation qualifies as the perfect location, for this much-needed and timely conference.
Held under the patronage of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, it is definitely a landmark forum in the Arabian Gulf region, providing a valuable platform to some of the world’s top religious leaders, academicians and scholars to discuss, and to debate, the dire need for peaceful coexistence, and the measures that must be immediately taken.
The significance of this event is clear from the fact that His Majesty the King has deputed the Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander and First Deputy Prime Minister to inaugurate the event this morning . His Majesty is also hosting a lunch in honour of some of the key figures attending the dialogue.
The conference at the Gulf Hotel’s Guf International Convention Centre brings together about 300 thinkers and intellectuals from more than 80 countries , religious and international organisations.
I had the privilege of playing a small part in the inter-faith dialogue which Bahrain had had the merit of organising and hosting, way back in 2002, twelve years ago; long before dialogues of this kind started being organized on a global scale.
Now, doing my little bit again in assisting the organisers , in inviting some of the renowned speakers from India, as they put together the valuable agenda and the remarkable line-up of speakers from around the world, I derived immense joy and satisfaction. I am grateful to the supreme organising committee chairman Shaikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Khalifa for giving me an opportunity to associate with him.
I felt proud especially because it is happening in this country, my second home, which has always been at the forefront, when it came to facilitating harmonious coexistence of diverse people groups.
As Shaikh Khalifa says, “We (Bahrain) had a conference for a dialogue between Muslims and Christians in 2002, and another conference for rapprochement between sects in 2003. We also had had a dialogue among civilizations in 2005”.
“Now, the call by His Majesty the King to host the global inter-civilizational dialogue was based on his commitment to consolidating the values of tolerance and dialogue between all civilizations, cultures, religions and sects” he says.
With the main aim of providing an appropriate setting to build bridges, maintain effective communication and enhance cultural interaction between different peoples and nations, this event is definitely a pioneering one in the region.
According to Shaikh Khalifa , “The recommendations of the conference will be referred to HM the King, the patron of the event, to adopt them as part of the Manama Documents.”
“The document would include the noble principles of the pluralism and diversity that serve humanity. The United Nations will be urged to adopt it as one of its formal documents. One recommendation is to designate Bahrain as a major hub in the universal process of dialogues among civilisations.”
The Apostolic Vicar of Northern Arabia Bishop Camillo Ballin, the first Bahraini bishop, who will also speak at the opening session , will declare loudly that Vatican, the centre of the Catholic world, sees Bahrain as an oasis of tolerance.
I feel that I must end this week’s column by quoting Shaikha Haya Rashid Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s former ambassador to the UN , and president of the 61st General Assembly.
In one of her addresses to the United Nations she said, “In this era of interdependence and globalization, it’s time for people to reach out and live together in harmony and peace, as we all belong to one large human family.”
We must not forget, therefore, that global harmony and peace will result only when everyone believes that we are a part of “one large human family”.
And a reiteration of this message I hope will be one of the key outcomes of this dialogue.