Religious Freedoms & National Constants in Bahrain
Opposing the government from within the existing system, is perfectly
legitimate. There are legitimate channels which regulate this form
of political work.
To differ with and criticize government policies and positions
is also legitimate.
Confrontation and clashing mostly occur upon transgression of
what is commonly known as the political ‘constants’.
This refers to the agreed upon constants: maintaining the system
of government; preservation of national unity; protection of religious
and denominational diversity; rejection of violence as a methodology
for change and political action.
Although the overwhelming popular majority in Bahrain believes
in these national constants, some political factions - not the grass
roots - have caused a high level of political, social and security
instability and confusion due to their contravention of these constants,
whether it was consciously planned or otherwise due to being carried
away in the heat of political conflict.
There are some, for example, who want to change the political
system and declare a republic, which is a violation of the constants,
without even knowing exactly how to bring about this change, and
whether it will take place through violence or otherwise. We have
also seen deliberate attempts to disrupt national unity along sectarian
lines, for the benefit of political conflict. The denomination and
sect have been mobilized to serve the political project, which actually
led to a rupture in Bahrain’s social ?fabric in a manner that is
unprecedented in Bahrain’s history.
Others have violated the constants of peaceful politics and demonstrated
an inclination to use political violence. They have opted for violence
despite the existence of clear channels for political activity –
however narrow they may be perceived- which include parties, elections,
civil society, the availability of press and media and freedom of
assembly among others.
to Bahrain’s independence: The late Sheikh Isa, the Emir
in a meeting with the late Sayyed Muhsin Al-Hakim,
the Shiite Marja’ (religious authority), in Najaf
The constant of protection of religious and denominational diversity
has made Bahrain a beacon among the countries of the region. But
there are also those who seek to undermine this constant under political
and religious pretexts. We say this, as we have just witnessed the
popular and formal celebrations of the Diwali festival; seen the
earlier Ashura’s celebrations, and are soon to witness Christmas
celebrations, which are to be followed by celebrations of the birth
of Prophet Mohammad.
There are among the popular leaders those who do not appreciate
the value of nation building, or the importance of the existence
of the state in regulating the lives of citizens through modern
methodologies. Perhaps this is mainly due to a cultural problem.
The state (Al Dawla in Arabic) is not a respected entity in the
The state, as denoted by its Arabic equivalent “Al Dawla” means
‘change’ as far as the Arab culture is concerned, which is contrary
to the contemporary political culture that associates the state
According to the popular Arab psyche, the ‘state’ is the antonym
of freedom, especially among nomadic tribes which prefer to wander
about without the constraints of borders, passports and identities.
Generally speaking, state property is not an object worthy of
an Arab’s respect. Even if an Arab appreciates and refuses to violate
personal property, he still would not respect state property and
may even assault and loot it, if given the opportunity.
Due to this, Arabs face problems in their countries in respect
of building real states that command respect and prestige, so that
citizens can identify themselves with the state and thus refuse
to derogate or weaken it or violate its property (public funds).
All an Arab can see is an encroachment by the state and an infringement
on his own private harem, as well as a restriction of his freedoms
of travel and expression.
Even the ‘rentier state’ is not immune from its subjects’ assault
on property, or even sabotage, as sometimes seen in parks and public
toilets, not to mention pillage of public funds and increased corruption.
This leaves the state brazenly ‘exposed to violation’ during peace
as well as during times of political tension, when public property
is among the target list for spoliation, arson or vandalism.
the King meets the Hussainya Processions Authority
The concept of the ‘legitimacy of the state’, that is its right
of sovereignty over its land and people, is still not instilled
in the Arab conscience, given the state’s authoritarianism and lack
of democracy, as well as its failure to realize the goals and aspirations
of its citizens.
In Bahrain, when the relationship between the state and the society
had been reviewed and the era of reform began, the negative view
of the state should have changed, which it did for a significant
number of groups, especially among Shiites. But the Shiites problem,
in particular, has deeply historical roots, which still persist
in some cases.
The old Shiite vision believes that government systems have usurped
the position of authority, in what is known as the concept of the
‘state usurpations’. During the fourth Hijri century, Shiite jurists
have slightly loosened the restriction against ‘serving with the
unjust ruler’ as can be seen in the writings of Sayyed Murtadha
Alam Al-Huda. However, when Sheikh Al-Karaki, the 10th century AD
jurist, permitted participation in the state and serving with rulers,
the restriction of ‘state usurpations’ was, to a large extent, broken.
By the end of the last century (20th century) the Shiite view
of the state and its legitimacy evolved further to allow participation
and working in the state organs if it adopts the path of shura (consultation)
and elections to the satisfaction of the people. Hence, the state
was no longer considered a ‘foreign body’ nor was it deemed a sin
to deal with the state or to partake in its functions.
In Bahrain, it is evident that Shiites today, except for a few,
do not see themselves as enemies of the state or as people who are
beyond its authority . Nor can they resist the appeal of participating
in the state institutions and influence its decisions to serve the
common good, as long as the democratic space is available.
But still, to benefit their current political stances against
the system of government in Bahrain, there are a few who recall
the old views and heritage of past jurisprudence which has been
mostly abandoned by mainstream Shiites. These groups began to
promote the concept that the state itself, not just the regime,
is not legitimate and that it is not permissible to obey the
state laws or to respect its property. They even permitted the
assault on public property through vandalism and pillaging, as
well as condoned the use of
violence against the state and the pursuit of changing the system
of government. Moreover, we read in their political militancy statements
that they prohibit working with the state, assuming government posts
or dealing with state officials whom they say should be boycotted.
But the truth is that it is not possible to take Bahrain’s Shiites
backwards, neither intellectually nor politically.
The state in Bahrain is everybody’s, and is not the’ state of
the privy’. Shiites, along with their compatriots, have contributed
to establishing the State of Bahrain; voted for its independence
in 1971 and its National Action Charter in 2001 and participated
in the political process. Therefore, the separatist approach desired
by the advocates of militancy does not only adopt an outdated thought
abandoned by Shiites, but its pursuit can also lead to their own
weakening and marginalization as well as the weakening of their
homeland and the wrecking of their lives; an eventuality which can
never be sought by those who are truly conscious and keen on the
interests of their people.
procession in Bahrain this year
Thankfully, this line of thought does not enjoy popularity. However,
had it gained ground, it would have constituted a violation of the
aforementioned four constants. It would have meant opening the door
for conflict not only between the Shiites and the political system,
but also between the Shiites and Sunnis, which could lead to the
use of violence, and ultimately spark a civil war.
During the latest Ashura celebrations, some abuses have occurred,
which some sought to exploit in sowing dissension against the system
of government. They resorted to striking the chord of the constant
of protecting religious freedoms, which they claim no longer exists
because the ruling system does not adhere to it. Thus, this minority
took the matter to the extent of promoting boycott and confrontation
with the political system.
As far as the government is concerned, Ashura’s event was the
same as in every year.
The Minister Interior received members of the Hussainya Processions
Authority before the start of Ashura’s festivities, and discussed
with them the security and regulatory procedures for marches and
For his part, as in every year, and as an expression of the strengthening
of national unity in special and religious events, the King made
financial and in-kind donations for every Shiite Hussainiya hall
in Bahrain, although plentiful and numbering in hundreds.
As has long been the case every year, there was an official holiday
for all Bahrainis, during the days of Tasooa and Ashura (9th &10th
of the month of Muharram respectively).
Again, as in every year (this year was no exception) following
the end of Ashura ceremony, the King received members of the Hussainya
Processions Authority who paid tribute to His Majesty for “issuing
royal directives to all ministries, government bodies and entities,
to ensure that rituals are held in a manner befitting the occasion’s
sanctity, by providing all government services and facilities efficiently
and in the best possible ways” and for His Majesty’s “personal follow
up to ensure optimal delivery of all services and security-related
requirements, as well as overcoming any incidental challenges and
The Hussainya Processions Authority said that the King’s meeting
with its members is “proof of His Majesty’s keenness on ensuring
the good organization of all matters relating to marking the memory
of Ashura annually. This also reflects his firm belief in diversity,
tolerance and religious co-existence between all categories of the
social spectrum, as enshrined in the constitution of the Kingdom
of Bahrain, as part of the reform project”.
For his part, His Majesty the King, this year, was keen on underscoring
the national constants, specifically those related to religious
freedom and communal coexistence, which is a message addressed to
all Bahrainis, that:
Firstly- The high level of religious freedoms achieved in Bahrain
is “a decades-long specificity of the Bahraini society which has
exercised generational co-existence, that was demonstrated through
its keenness on religious and denominational diversity and the protection
of social fabric and national cohesion”.
Secondly- Religious freedoms are enjoyed by all: residents, citizen
and all religions. His Majesty expressed his pride “in the high
level of religious freedom in Bahrain, where people exercise their
religious rituals without any discrimination or division”
Thirdly- Religious freedoms fall under the umbrella of national
unity and special religious events open opportunities for cooperation
and harmony, rather than discord and division. Thus, His Majesty
stressed “the importance of these events and the need to bolster
the principles of cooperation and fraternity between all subjects
of the Kingdom of Bahrain, under the banner of their national unity
and Islamic values “