Bahrain was praised as a beacon of religious tolerance and interfaith progress by an American Orthodox rabbi last week.
Rabbi Marc Schneier, who leads the Hampton Synagogue in New York and has worked to improve Muslim-Jewish relations, was the first rabbi to speak at the Embassy of Bahrain’s annual iftar, the traditional breaking of the fast at sunset during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Schneier, who is friends with Bahrain’s king, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, said, “the Kingdom of Bahrain is authentic and is the beacon of interfaith and intercultural relationships in the [Persian] Gulf.”
Schneier was joined by the Rev. Johnnie Moore, an evangelical Christian pastor from Southern California, and Imam Mohamed Magid of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center in Sterling.
All three mentioned the Bahrain Declaration, a 2017 article that declared people of all faiths should be respected in the majority Muslim country.
Magid said the declaration was the true reflection of Islam. It stems from the “beautiful teaching of the prophet Mohammed who said all human beings are equal,” he said.
Moore said when working with the king to draft the declaration, he remembered a saying in Bahrain that the king repeated to him: Ignorance is the enemy of peace.
“And that’s why nights like this one are important,” he said. “In a time when the worst of religion is on display in too many places and where religion is used to divide instead of unite, the Kingdom of Bahrain has shown me the best
Bahrain has been reforming since the current king came to power in 1999. Amnesty International still cites a number of human rights abuses, like the stifling of dissent, torture and detaining opposition leaders and activists.
But the speakers called Bahrain a vision for the future of the Gulf region. In his speech Schneier, whose congregation was the first synagogue to visit Bahrain this year, mentioned Israel, which is anathema to much of the Arab world and has no diplomatic relations with Bahrain.
“As an American Jew, I am particularly pleased that the Kingdom of Bahrain is authentic in its desire to develop a relationship with Israel,” he said.
Rose Sager, a Bahraini Jew and trade representative at the embassy, said she thought the event reflected the true Bahrain. She was born into a Jewish community of about 1,000, she said, but it has dwindled over the years to its current tally of 37.
She has fond memories of iftars from growing up — they were big events during Ramadan and she would be making the rounds at her friends’ houses for large dinners.
“This is how it is. I grew up among Muslims, Christians, Hindu, Sikh, whatever. It’s respected, it’s welcomed,” she said. “This really is Bahrain.”