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Bahrain Declaration Brings Hope for Muslim Moderation

Lela Gilbert

Will Islam ever experience a Reformation? Is the world witnessing the earliest stirrings of such a change?

Every September 11, the question arises again: How could one of the world’s “great religions” — Islam — be the source of such horrific terrorism? The explosive collapse of the World Trade Center Towers and the rest of the deadly attacks in 2001 brought the issue into unavoidable and lasting focus.

Particularly in America — where the separation of church and state was virtually carved in stone at the nation’s founding — the apparently seamless relationship between Islam, politics, and violence in the name of God has been almost impossible to comprehend.

Clearly, Islamist terrorism thrives and proliferates in nations whose leaders turn a blind eye toward, approve, or even support, radical Islamist groups like Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, and of course ISIS.

But now, with a new U.S. administration, a more robust American resistance to such violence has been proclaimed. In May, President Donald Trump made an unprecedented speech in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia at the Arab Islamic American Summit, calling for Muslim leaders to take action against Islamist terrorism.

Trump declared:

“There can be no coexistence with this violence.

“There can be no tolerating it, no accepting it, no excusing it, and no ignoring it.

“Every time a terrorist murders an innocent person, and falsely invokes the name of God, it should be an insult to every person of faith.

“Terrorists do not worship God, they worship death….

“But the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children.

“It is a choice between two futures — and it is a choice America cannot make for you.

“A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. Drive. Them. Out.

“Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land, and drive them out of this earth.”

Less than two weeks later, according to The Washington Post: “Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates cut ties to Qatar …. They also launched an economic boycott, stopping Qatar Airways flights from using their airspace, closing off the small country’s sole land border with Saudi Arabia and blocking its ships from using their ports. They say the crisis stems from Qatar’s support for extremist groups in the region, charges denied by Doha. The four nations have also pointed to Qatar’s close relationship with Iran, with which it shares a massive offshore gas field that provides the peninsular nation its wealth.”

Israelis and other observers have pointed out that Qatar provides sanctuary to Muslim Brotherhood members as well has Hamas leaders who have fled Gaza and Egypt.

Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has repeatedly insisted that Islam must reform. In recent days he has “renewed calls for reforming Islamic discourse, saying it is a key element in defeating terrorism.”

In an even more surprising twist, it was also widely reported in early September that a Saudi prince had secretly visited Israel and met with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. The story remains unconfirmed, but intriguing.

Most recently, just days ago in an unparalleled celebration of unity, a gala interfaith event was hosted in Los Angeles by the Simon Weisenthal Center. It was attended by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leadership.

On this occasion, Prince Nasser bin Hamad al Khalifa, the son of Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa, spoke to the prestigious group of religious leaders and presented a remarkable document from Bahrain’s king. Called the Bahrain Declaration for Religious Tolerance, it proclaims religious freedom, normalized relations with Israel, and a demand that religious minorities receive equal rights.

According to Christianity Today, the Bahrain Declaration builds on other recent reforms proposed in the Muslim world, including the Marrakesh Declaration in Morocco, and the Jakarta Declaration in Indonesia. But according to Rev. Johnnie Moore, an organizer of the ecumenical event, it goes much further than previous manifestos.

Among its key principles:

  • That extremist clergy who preach hatred and violence are committing a desecration.
  • That there shall be no compelled religious observance, and every person has freedom of religion and the right to practice their own faith as long as they obey the law and cause no harm to others.
  • It calls on all people of faith to condemn “the sowing of terror, the encouragement of extremism and radicalization, suicide bombing, promotion of sexual slavery, and the abuse of women and children.”
  • Finally, it declares each religious leader of whatever faith tradition “has an active role to play in creating a fully inclusive environment that fosters mutual respect and cooperation.”

Moore summed up the significance of the Bahrain Declaration in his closing remarks, which underscored Americans’ yearning for an end of radical Islamist terrorism, and the beginning of Muslim reform and moderation.

“As a Christian,” Moore stated, “I worship a Prince of Peace — Jesus — who is a Jew whom the Quran calls a prophet. How are we even going to understand ourselves if we don’t talk to one another? His Majesty King Hamad’s Bahrain Declaration calls upon us all to play an active role … in building an inclusive world where our individual faith in God is a blessing to all mankind and a foundation for peace.”

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