BAHRAIN, Oct. 31 – More than 150 religious leaders, scholars, government and non-profit organization representatives converged on this tiny kingdom in the Arab Gulf from October 28 to 30, sandwiched between two rounds of its first open democratic election to the Chamber of Deputies, to attend the 10th Islamic-Christian Dialogue Conference under the auspices of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The Bahrain meeting, the result of His All Holiness’s official visit to Bahrain and meeting with its King, Shaikh Hamad bin-Isa Al Khalifa in September of 2000 as part of the former’s worldwide initiatives for peace, was co-sponsored by the Arab Muslim monarch, who told delegates that the conference presented a “tremendous opportunity” to uphold the values of tolerance and harmony with the need to fight extremism in all faiths.
After three intensive days of nine sessions with Muslim speakers from throughout the Muslim and Arab world and representatives of the Orthodox and Oriental Churches, the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches from Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India, the Bahrain Declaration was issued, calling on all peoples and nations to reinforce dialogue in search of peaceful coexistence and “the negation of violence”; to exchange views in the service of humanity “sparing mankind the dangers of conflict”; to remind all peoples and nations of the noble and common principles embodied in the messages of both Islam and Christianity; and to support the efforts of Muslim and Christian scholars and intellectuals to crystallize the bases for peaceful coexistence and mutual respect in accordance with the teachings of both faiths.
In opening the conference, Bishop Emmanuel of Reghion, Executive Director of the Office of Interreligious and Intercultural Relations of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, read a welcoming message from His All Holiness who said that while “the international tensions of our times render dialogue an arduous undertaking, it is no less true that they render it that much more essential, for the simple reason that dialogue in good faith is the only path to avert the most disastrous outcome of war which threatens the world.”
Bishop Emmanuel opened the conference stressing the challenge of globalization and migration, creating multireligious and multicultural societies all over the world.
The Final Report and Recommendations called for the establishment of a permanent joint secretariat for Muslim-Christian dialogue between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The Ministries of Labor and Social Affairs and Justice and Islamic Affairs sponsored the Organizing Committee for the Conference with participation by the representatives of the 17 Christian churches in the 30- island kingdom of some 650,000 inhabitants.
The Ecumenical Patriarch’s peace initiatives became more intensive after the catastrophic event of September 11. He organized a meeting of the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam in Brussels the following December, co-chaired by Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission. Titled, “The Peace of God in the World”, the interreligious meeting issued the Brussels Declaration which called for regret and repentance for crimes committed by members of religious communities; affirmed that extremists do not reflect the teachings of these religions, and therefore religious beliefs are not responsible for their acts; and, reiterated the earlier Berne Declaration and Bosphorus Declaration (of 1992 and 1994, respectively) that “a crime committed in the name of religion is a crime against religion.”
In mid-October of this year, His All Holiness visited Qatar and discussed the possibility of a joint sponsorship of an Islamic-Christian dialogue there in 2004. Tentative plans are being made for Orthodox Christian sponsorship of an Islamic-Christian Dialogue in Greece in 2003.