CONSOLIDATING TIES BE­TWEEN TWO MUS­LIM COUN­TRIES

The visit of the 67year-old leader of Bahrain is an hon­our for Malaysia

New Straits Times - - Opinion -

BAHRAIN’S King Ha­mad Isa Al-Khal­ifa re­cently vis­ited Malaysia at the invitation of the Yang diPer­tuan Agong Sul­tan Muham­mad V. He also had an au­di­ence with Sul­tan of Pa­hang Sul­tan Haji Ah­mad Shah. This was the first trip of a Bahraini ruler to Malaysia in 43 years of diplo­matic re­la­tions.

King Ha­mad ac­knowl­edged the steadily-grow­ing Bahraini-Malaysian re­la­tions, par­tic­u­larly in mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion. He hailed the piv­otal role of Malaysia and its pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion in serv­ing re­gional and in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity as well as strength­en­ing co­op­er­a­tion un­der the Is­lamic Al­liance for com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism and ex­trem­ism.

The visit of the 67-year-old re­form-minded leader of Bahrain is an hon­our for Malaysia. Bahrain is an enor­mously im­por­tant coun­try sit­u­ated in the en­er­gyrich Per­sian Gulf. This is­land na­tion of one mil­lion has unique cul­tural, eco­nomic and geopo­lit­i­cal fea­tures.

One of the ma­jor char­ac­ter­is­tics of Bahrain’s na­tional cul­ture is re­li­gious tol­er­ance. Mus­lims, Chris­tians, Jews, Ba­hais and Hin­dus live side by side in peace and har­mony in Bahrain. At a time when the Ira­nian regime tries to un­der­mine Bahrain’s sta­bil­ity by em­pha­sis­ing the Sunni-Shia di­vide, King Ha­mad has risen above this sec­tar­i­an­ism by ac­cen­tu­at­ing the virtue of unity and one­ness of all faiths.

There has long been sim­mer­ing ten­sion be­tween the pop­u­lace, which is 70 per cent Shia Mus­lims, and the mi­nor­ity Sun­nis to which the rul­ing Al-Khal­ifa fam­ily be­longs to, and in which the lat­ter con­trols nearly all the power and wealth, as well as con­sti­tut­ing the ma­jor­ity of the rul­ing class. The Shia Mus­lims have com­plained that they have been ex­cluded from top po­si­tions in the mil­i­tary and gov­ern­ment.

Bahrain is an ar­chi­pel­ago of 30 is­lands tucked in a gulf be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and Qatar, and, there­fore, has shares of un­in­ter­rupted flow of oil and gas from the Per­sian Gulf to in­ter­na­tional mar­kets. To­day, the free flow of oil and gas across Bahrain’s wa­ter­way plays a crit­i­cal role in Western en­ergy se­cu­rity.

King Ha­mad was de­fence min­is­ter from 1971 to 1988. Ear­lier that year, he had com­pleted a course at the United States Army’s Com­mand and Staff Col­lege at Fort Leav­en­worth, Kansas. He also took other mil­i­tary cour­ses in the US and at Sand­hurst in the United King­dom, while tak­ing charge of the devel­op­ment of the Bahraini armed forces. King Ha­mad is cred­ited with the cre­ation and main­te­nance of the armed forces as a pro­fes­sional unit.

When he be­came king in 1999, King Ha­mad be­gan a sweep­ing democrati­sa­tion process for the coun­try. Cen­sor­ship has been re­laxed and dra­co­nian laws have been re­pealed, while ex­iles have been repa­tri­ated, and the state­less Bi­doons have been granted ci­ti­zen­ship.

In the Fe­bru­ary 2001 ref­er­en­dum, which per­mit­ted women to vote for the first time, Bahrai­nis over­whelm­ingly sup­ported the trans­for­ma­tion of the tra­di­tional monar­chy into a con­sti­tu­tional one.

Mean­while, re­li­gious fig­ures, one of the po­lit­i­cal forces in the coun­try, need to have proper li­cences to be able to de­liver their ser­mons and speeches. Is­lam and democ­racy, in par­al­lel to civil­i­sa­tional di­a­logues, are among the top­ics that should be in­cluded in the manda­tory train­ing ses­sions.

Oil was dis­cov­ered in Bahrain in the 1930s, which was rel­a­tively lit­tle com­pared with the other Gulf States. King Ha­mad’s fa­ther, Sheikh Isa Sal­man Al-Khal­ifa, who be­came Emir in 1961, was de­ter­mined to di­ver­sify the econ­omy, and he set about es­tab­lish­ing Bahrain as a ma­jor fi­nan­cial cen­tre. The coun­try pro­vides its peo­ple with free med­i­cal care, ed­u­ca­tion and old-age pen­sions.

Due to Bahrain’s long his­tory of ac­tive civil so­ci­ety, King Ha­mad es­tab­lished the Isa Award in 2009 to hon­our those who have served hu­man­ity in a pro­found way.

Malaysian Med­i­cal Re­lief So­ci­ety (Mercy) founder Tan Sri Dr Jami­lah Mahmood from Malaysia was pre­sented with the Isa Award in May 2013. She was hon­oured for many years for con­tin­u­ous hu­man­i­tar­ian works fol­low­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of health cen­tres by Mercy in coun­tries af­fected by nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, such as Su­dan, In­done­sia and Myan­mar.

When US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump looks around the Mus­lim world for a model of re­li­gious free­dom, Bahrain is one coun­try he can point to.

He suggested, “Trump’s for­eign pol­icy team must in­vite King Ha­mad to the White House for a work­ing visit with the pres­i­dent in get­ting a sense of the geopo­lit­i­cal chal­lenges fac­ing the broader Mid­dle East and a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what ails the Mid­dle East from him. Im­por­tantly, a Trump-Ha­mad meet­ing would send a pos­i­tive mes­sage to those anx­ious about Trump’s feel­ings to­ward Is­lam in gen­eral and the Mus­lim world.”

Such re­flec­tion res­onates here in Malaysia as our coun­try is part of the global pro­gres­sive Mus­lim so­ci­ety. A con­sol­i­da­tion in the Malaysia-Bahrain ties would, hope­fully, mirror a more optimistic out­look on the global per­cep­tion of Is­lam.

The writer, a Ful­bright scholar and Ja­pan In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs fel­low, is a former lec­turer of Univer­siti Te­knologi MARA (UiTM) Shah Alam and In­ter­na­tional Is­lamic Univer­sity Malaysia, Gom­bak

When he be­came king in 1999, King Ha­mad be­gan a sweep­ing democrati­sa­tion process for the coun­try.

Cen­sor­ship has been re­laxed and dra­co­nian laws have been re­pealed, while ex­iles have been repa­tri­ated, and the state­less Bi­doons have been granted ci­ti­zen­ship.

BERNAMA PIC

Yang di-Per­tuan Agong Sul­tan Muham­mad V shar­ing a light mo­ment with Bahrain’s King Ha­mad Isa Al-Khal­ifa at Is­tana Ne­gara in Kuala Lumpur ear­lier this month.

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