Sheikh Maytham Al Salman, who heads the Religious Freedom Unit in the Bahrain Human Rights Observatory, said that the crime that the Government of Bahrain committed in demolishing 38 Shiite Muslims mosques encouraged extremist organizations including ISIS to threat of committing similar acts.
Al Salman continued saying: “The government established a new practice of targeting, attacking, demolishing and burning mosques and places of worship in Bahrain as the history of the two sects in the country is far from extremism and barbarism and the biggest sign of that is having the people of the Capital embracing the churches, mosques and Jewish synagogue and places of worship of various religions in Bahrain.”
Al Salman added: “The psychological and social nature of the citizens in addition to their cultural and educational backgrounds prevents them from practicing terrorism and violence and exercising crimes against others of different religions, ethnics and races. Hence, we can only conclude that these extremist ISIS-linked schools of thought and the culture of repression and demolition and burning of mosques and places of worship as being imported to the country and taking root in it. These extremist cells and ideologies began mushrooming in record time since the Government’s demolishment of the 38 Shiite mosques.”
He further said: “It is very natural for people to consider any new targeting of mosques, registered in the Jaafari endowments, as a “foreign” unaccepted practice which was unprecedented in the history of Bahrain before the government demolished 38 mosques(2011) in what Professor Cherif Bassiouni, chairman of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), has considered “a retaliation on a particular sect”.
USCIRF (United States Commission on International Religious Freedom) has concluded that the Bahraini government has made demonstrable progress in rebuilding mosques and religious structures it destroyed during unrest in the spring of 2011. Nevertheless, more needs to be done to implement recommendations from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) to redress past abuses against Shi’a Muslims and further improve religious freedom conditions.
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Sh. Maytham Al Salman was honored to meet the Holy Father Pope Francis, Pope of the Catholic Church, last week as part of a delegation of religious leaders from 6 countries visiting the Vatican city state. The meeting focused on the importance of denouncing all forms of extremism, takfirism, violence and terrorism whilst promoting dialogue as a solution to disputes around the universe.
Groups join forces in condemning religious extremism and terrorism
Global Pulse staff
March 26, 2015
A coalition of Catholic and Shiite Muslim leaders strongly condemned terrorist acts by radical Islamic groups like Boko Haram and the Islamic State. “Religious leaders who legitimize violence are neither religious, nor are they being leaders,” said Maytham Al-Salman, head of an interfaith center in Bahrain, reported Crux. “Those who promote diversity, acceptance of others, love and mercy, are the true religious leaders.”
Al-Salman said Islam has been hijacked by radical groups that use scripture to justify terrorism and human rights violations. His remarks were released March 24 following a Rome summit organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic movement that specializes in conflict resolution and ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, as well as the Iraq-based Al-Khoei Foundation. Its purpose was to consider the “responsibility of the faithful in a plural world toward peace.”
ROME — A summit in Rome between Shi’ite Muslim and Catholic leaders on Tuesday produced a strong condemnation of terrorist acts by radical Islamic groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
“Religious leaders who legitimize violence are neither religious, nor are they being leaders,” said Maytham Al-Salman, head of an interfaith center in Bahrain. “Those who promote diversity, acceptance of others, love and mercy, are the true religious leaders.”
Al-Salman said that Islam has been hijacked both by non-democratic regimes that utilize scripture to legitimize human rights violations, and by hardline extremist groups to justify terrorism.
The Rome summit was organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic movement that specializes in conflict resolution and ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, as well as the Iraq-based Al-Khoei Institute. Its purpose was to consider the “responsibility of the faithful in a plural world towards peace.”
Al-Salam called for religious leaders and organizations to take a clear stance against hate speech in social media, public commentary, and other platforms. Otherwise, he warned, steps to stop terrorism will fail.
“We need to implement legislative measures that deal with the growth of hatred, rather than the growth of violence and terrorism,” Al-Salam said. “Unless we deal with hatred, we’ll never reach the right strategy for containing terrorism.”
He proposed pressuring governments to drop restrictions on religious freedom, such as law in the Persian Gulf that deprive Catholic faithful of the right to build and to use churches.
Hashim Al-Salman, rector of the theological seminary of Al-Hasa in Saudi Arabia, proposed an international day to celebrate the Prophet Abraham, who is honored by the three traditional monotheistic religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity), as a sign of interreligious understanding.
Jawad Al-Khoei, general secretary of the international Al-Khoei Institute, called for a consolidation of the common ground among Catholics and Shi’a Islam.
“There’s a common vision between Shi’ite and Catholics of peacefully living together,” he said.
For this dialogue to be successful, he said, it must be inclusive, not restricted to intellectuals.
“We need to plant this seed in society, through the arts, sports, politics culture,” al-Khoei said.
“Plurality comes from the origins of human life,” he said, quoting the Quran. “Allah said there’s no difference between people, and that a nation cannot impose itself over another nation. Allah said ‘respect each other, honor the sons of Adam.’”
Italian Catholic layman and historian Andrea Riccardi, the founder of Sant’Egidio, said that some men and women today who feel disoriented are attracted to fanaticism.
“In a globalized world, people can’t bear a rootless existence and take refuge in this perversion of religion,” he said.
“Global capitalism without humanism,” he said, “creates intolerable situations.”
Talking about the persecution and “moment of trial” faced by Christians and Shi’ites alike today in Pakistan, Iraq, and Nigeria, Riccardi said that “we can’t stand by idly without any social responsibility.”
French Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said that for Christians, Muslims, and other believers, God is a source of good that implies peace.
Tauran condemned what he called an “unscrupulous instrumentalization” of humanity’s innate religious sense.
“Is there a scourge worse than war?” he asked. “I think of the victims of the conflict in Syria, with 10,000 kids being murdered in four years, 4 million refugees, 7 [million] internally displaced, and over 70 percent of the society living in poverty.”
Tauran also cited victims in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.
“It makes us wonder, where does violence come from?” he asked, suggesting the causes are not only injustice, the struggle for natural resources, and the arms trade, but also incitements to violence by religious leaders.
“I think of Pakistan, where people are burned on charges of blasphemy!” Tauran said.
He called for religious rhetoric to promote social cohesion.
“We have an obligation to promote peace, especially in times of crisis like the present one,” Tauran said, asking, “How much pain arises from the religious schools of some countries that become a breeding ground for extremism?”
Al-Salman called for religious leaders to join forces with the United Nations, UNESCO, and the International Human Rights Committee to adopt strategies to stand against the growth of radical violence, especially within the Middle East.
“When Boko Haram demolishes a church in Nigeria, or hardliners [attack] a Shi’a Shrine in Iraq, there should be a collaborative approach toward these acts of terrorism,” he said.
Sh. Maytham Al Salman has participated in the Catholics & Shiites Dialogue conference that was held on the 24th of March 2015 in Roma, Italy. He presented the following paper which explains, from an Islamic perspective, the guidelines towards managing, enhancing and promoting religious diversity among societies.
Catholics & Shiites Dialogue Conference: Guidelines towards Managing Religious Diversity from an Islamic Context
By Sh. Maytham Al Salman
Religious hostilities are sweeping the globe due to limited efforts exerted by governments, religious groups and non-governmental organizations to hold them back.
According to the Pew Research Center, religious hostilities reached a six-year high in 2012, with a third (33%) of countries in the high category, up from 20% just six years earlier. In another research, Religious Hostility has grown by 72% in 2014. Although religious hostilities affect countries throughout the entire world, countries in the Middle East consistently have higher levels of a range of religious hostilities than other countries and by wide margins. This has been a result of the out-reach and constant growth of extreme ideologies that form the ideological depth of terrorist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda.
The typical government response to religious hostilities is to tighten restrictions on religion. But, contrary to common perceptions, a solid body of empirical and historical research shows that piling on additional restrictions does not ensure peace and stability, but rather can fuel additional grievances. Indeed, research shows that the price of denying religious freedoms is far higher than protecting them. Specifically, as social hostilities involving religion rise, government restrictions on religion rise, leading to more violence, setting up a religious violence cycle that becomes difficult to break, with direct adverse effects on social stability, interfaith acceptance, tolerance levels and economies. Thus, it is essential for Governments and social powers including religious leaders to play a positive role in ensuring religious freedoms are preserved, respected and celebrated as a symbol of strength in Nations.
Although governments in principle should reach to a level of neutrality in civil, political, social and economic rights, it is essential for for religious leaders to convey clear outspoken messages to influential players in politics including Governments, CSO’s, Parties, and multi-cultural components of society on their views towards celebrating religious and cultural diversity.
The following perspective represents an Islamic framework of the guidelines towards maturing tolerance from theory into action.
God Almighty said: “Allah does not forbid you to deal justly and kindly with those who did not fought against you because of (your) religion and did not drive you out of your homes. Verily, Allah loves those who deal with equity.“ (Quran: Chapter 60, Verse 8).
He also said: ”O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” (Quran: Chapter 49, Verse 13)
The first verse establishes the principle of tolerance between all humanity regardless of their belief system, as it calls for righteousness, non-violence, peace, and to deal justly and kindly with the followers of different religions and beliefs as long as they are not intentionally harming you (which is overwhelmingly the case). God Almighty likes such behavior and likes those adopting such behavior.
The second verse establishes the principle of co-existence and inclusivity between people and nations from multi-faith and multi-cultural backgrounds. The verse clearly calls for promoting dialogue, acceptance and understanding of one another. It considers this celebrating diversity and plurality among human beings as a sacred goal.
The contents of the two verses is suitable to be a general framework for a code of honor among the followers of different faiths, and members of different communities to live together in peace, harmony and tolerance through establishing positive relationship embraced by justice and equity.
From this point of view, we truly believe that the following guidelines could surely play a positive role at a political, social and religious level to promote tolerance between religions and coexistence between multi-cultural communities. We truly call upon religious leaders to support immediate initiatives focusing on establishing peace, tolerance and equity amongst people regardless of their social, religious or racial backgrounds. We also believe that the teachings of hatred, belligerence and enmity need to not only be condemned but tackled at a political and legislative level by governments and politicians.
We truly believe that Muslim Religious Leaders should ensure that the following principles are adapted by governments to avoid the continuation of Governmental-Religious-Restrictions (GRR) and Social Hostilities affecting the situation of religious freedoms within the world especially in the Middle East.
Tolerance Principles 1. Respect all human beings and treat them with dignity and mercy regardless of their backgrounds. It is essential to deal with each and every human being with equity, avoiding any abuse or violation of his universal human rights committed on the basis of his religious, ethnic or sectarian affiliation. It is also crucial to avoid insulting or abusing their sanctities, beliefs or convictions.
2. Dealing with followers of other religions or creeds with tolerance and justice is not incompatible with one’s pride of belonging to a particular religion. So while every party may retain its religious or doctrinal peculiarities and adhere to their specific teachings and edicts, dealing with others shall be within a framework of mercy, respect, morality, and social equity.
3. Dialogue is a civilized way of resolving differences between the followers of different religions and sects. It is also one of the means for mutual understanding and rapprochement between the followers of different religions or belief systems.
4. The built-in conscience in humanity, the appeals of the prophets and messengers (peace be upon them) and the efforts of reformers, represent the true depth of the ideal human society; so it is necessary to be conversant with such ideals and approaches and to benefit from them in formulating the perfect human society.
5. The need to recognize and accept the general human ideals and values that are taught by all the religions and are consistent with human conscience, like justice, peace and compassion, and to reject injustice, tyranny, terrorism and hatred, and to work together to consolidate these values, and to implement them throughout human societies.
6. Good morals, being a basic component in all religions, represent a valuable asset and a fertile ground for the scheme of tolerance between religions and of the coexistence among various communities.
7. Human dignity, human freedom and legitimate universal rights are common elements in human life, and are supported by all religions.
8. Males and females constitute the human species together and both of them get their due rights arising from such affiliation to the human kind.
9. Life built on materialistic ideals alone (i.e. without giving due consideration to the spiritual and moral values) together with the prevailing political, economic and moral corruption in human societies, hinders the progress of humanity towards righteousness and deprives it of the blessings of stability, security and peace.
The Bahrain Human Rights Observatory (BHRO) revealed a significant rise in the rate of violations of religious freedom during the annual religious commemoration of Imam Hussein, Ashura. This rate has rised to 56% in comparison with the violations documented in the previous year (Ashura 2013).
Sheikh Maytham Alsalman spoke at a press conference in Manama, on Saturday 8th, November 2014. He said at least 25 areas around Bahrain were targeted and subjected to violations which included:
1. Hundreds of Ashura manifestations such as; black flags and banners were removed by security forces.
2. Six preachers were summoned and questioned about their speeches and lectures and personal opinions and beliefs.
3. Makeshift displays and manifestations made for the occasion were vandalized by security forces.
4. A protest march was attacked with suffocating tear gas.
5. Security forces delayed people who wanted to attend Ashura lectures and processions.
6. Security forces removed food counters especially made for the occasion.
7. Black flags were removed from houses, and households who hanged flags on their houses were summoned.
8. Administrations of Matams (religious places) were summoned.
9. A religious preacher was arrested.
10. 25 areas were targeted by security forces.
11. Security forces removed camp hosting event titles; “Imam Hussein’s principles of peace and love” in Ma’ameer village.
Alsalman said the BHRO strongly denounced the Bahraini Authority’s systematic violations of religious freedom during Ashura.
Al Salman welcomes the report of the U.S. State Department on “International Religious Freedom” and calls for the US to exercise effective pressure on Manama to stop religious persecution.
Sheikh Maytham Al Salman, Head of Religious Freedom at BHRO, has welcomed the International Religious Freedom Report issued by the U.S. State Department on Monday, July 28, 2014 11:15 am EDT ( 6:15 am Bahrain Time). The Annual report issued by the Office of International Religious Freedom, has been released by the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry who delivered a short speech in which he stressed on the continuation for support of democracy and human rights principles; calling on considering religious freedom a basic human right. Following which questions were answered by Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Mr. Thomas Malinowski, whom the Bahraini Government regarded as persona non grata just three weeks ago.
Sheikh Maytham Al Salman welcomed the report regarding it as an extension of the outcome reached by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom “USCIRF” in its annual report and dozens of local and international reports that preceded it; saying that the report confirms continuing violations against Shia citizens in Bahrain, and refers to the arbitrary arrests and harassment that occurred during Ashura in the month of November of last year.
Al Salman said: “The report confirmed continuing sectarian and religious incitement of hatred between social factions in the official and semi-official media; referring to the failure of the government in taking any legal measures and actions that criminalize the incitement of hatred against Shia citizens.”
Al Salman continued: “The report confirmed the authenticity of our reports about sectarian discrimination in official circles, including the Army, the Ministry of Interior and the media; the continued stalling by officials, in the rebuilding of 38 mosques (registered in Jaafari endowments) that were demolished illegally, and banning prayers in some of the demolished mosques. The report also pointed to the dissolution of the Islamic Council of Scholars, which is the largest religious institution of the Shiite community in Bahrain. The report also noted the continued policy of impunity and legal accountability for abuses committed against citizens based on their religious background.
Al Salman has demanded the U.S. administration to exert effective pressure on the regime in Bahrain to stop religious persecution and systematic sectarian discrimination. He also demanded the U.S. administration to exert effective pressure on the government of Bahrain to rebuild all the demolished mosques in their original locations, and hold those responsible for demolishing the 38 mosques of the Shiite community accountable for their crimes. Al Salman also demanded the U.S. administration to urge the regime in Bahrain to criminalize the incitement of religious hatred.
We, the British Shi’a community, are increasingly concerned by the continued discrimination against Shi’a Muslims in Bahrain by the Bahraini government. In times of difficulty it is imperative for us to voice our concerns. As the Archbishop of Canterbury so eloquently said in November 2013: “we have responsibilities to speak, even when it might be easier to stay quiet, to point to injustice and to challenge others to join us in righting it.”
In 2011, the Bahraini government destroyed 30 Shi’a mosques and religious sites, including the 400 year old Amir Muslim Mohammed Barbagi Mosque. While some of these religious sites have been rebuilt following condemnation of this act from the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry; however, some, including the Barbaqi Mosque, remain untouched. The destruction of these sacred Shi’a sites shows a lack of respect for the Shi’a community in Bahrain.
In April of this year, Sheikh Hussein al-Najati, Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani’s highest representative in Bahrain, was expelled from the country and stripped of his citizenship. To date, Al-Najati’s citizenship has not been reinstated, rendering him stateless. Since November 2012, 30 other people have been stripped of their Bahraini nationality, rendering them victims of statelessness. The removal of citizenship by a state in this way is a practice that has widely been condemned by the UN.
Following the demonstrations in 2011, during which both Sunni and Shi’a citizens called for the Bahraini government to fulfil its promises of reform, a number of Shi’a citizens continue to be imprisoned for participating in the protests.
The Bahraini government has failed to act on many of the recommendations made by the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry and has yet to fulfil its promises of political reform in the state. In a recent report issued by the US State Department, identified a number of human rights concerns in Bahrain, including the inability of citizens to change their government peacefully, the arrest and detention of protestors on vague charges, cases of torture in detention and a lack of due process in trails.
Recent efforts by the Bahraini government to present itself as a champion of interfaith dialogue ring hollow to those who are experiencing religious persecution at the hands of that same government. Considering the traditionally closer relationship between Bahrain and Britain, the Shi’a Muslim community of Britain calls upon the British government to refrain from supporting the Bahraini government by providing it with arms it can use against its own people.
1. Alkhoei Islamic Foundation 2. Dar Al Islam Foundation 3. Abrar Islamic Foundation 4. The Ahlul Bayt Islamic Centre 5. International Dialogue Foundation 6. World Ahlul Bayt Islamic League (WABIL) 7. Council of Europran Jamaats 8. Majlis-e-ulama Shia Europe 9. Shia Ithna’ashari Community of Middlesex