A seminar titled “the Role of Religious Diversity in the Future of the Arab Gulf” was hosted in December 2011 by the Arab International Relations Forum(AIRF) in Qatar stressed the importance of coexistence between sects in Arab States of the Gulf and the need to separate the sectarian tension from the political field.
The seminar, which was held over two days, dealt with the aspects of divergence and convergence between Sunni and Shiite communities according to some violence events that have occurred recently in Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
The book includes number of researches and deliberations by 26 elite politicians, researchers, academic and religious figures from all Gulf States.
Dr. Mohammed Al Ahmari, the director of the (AIRF) thanked at his speech the officials, who made the dream come true. And about the importance of the seminar, he said “it urged intellectual to play their role in the Arab and Islamic region, and give a vision for the community in a way that contributed to avoid political or sectarian conflicts”.
The participants in the first session which was moderated by Mr. Abdul Aziz Al Mahmoud stressed the need to avoid sectarian conflicts, and resort to dialogue to resolve them to protect the common interests of the region. Most of the participants believed that political influences were and still considered main causes. History showed that the inhabitants of the region lived and coexisted for centuries in harmony, peace, sharing joint work and intermarriages with no restrictions and barriers. However, the political utilization of doctrinal diversity created and fed the current state of tension between people, resulting in acute polarization.
This tension is directly proportional to the growing demands for political reform in the region. The political factor in sectarian tension was present in the conference’s discussions as this factor serves various powers that aim to keep the situation as it is or unstable. The tensions may be attributed to historical reasons in the heritage of every doctrine, culture, educational curricula, media and radical religious discourse.
The conference discussed experiences of political and cultural initiatives that contributed in easing the level of sectarian tension in the region particularly in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Oman such as holding interfaith meetings between religious symbols, holding dialogues conferences and educating and informing the public.
In his speech at the seminar, Sheikh Ali Salman, the General Security of Bahrain Al Wifaq Society, said that “religious diversity in the present is a negative situation and we have to make it natural state”, stressing that religious diversity should be convergence factor between the two shores of the Gulf”. He added that “relations should be based on citizenship rather than on doctrines”. He also criticized the regime in Bahrain, saying that “our problem in politics, not in doctrines”, and that “the royal family in Bahrain established on sectarian discrimination and not for the interest of particular religious doctrines”.
For his part Sheikh Abdullatif Al Mahmoud a Sunni leader from Bahrain, pointed that there is no problem in sectarian diversity, but adding political dimension to what is sectarian, creates the problem in a way harms national security and threatens social peace.
Furthermore Abdulaziz Al Thenian the ex-member of Saudi Shura Council said that diversity is important for the region, and we should not let extremists in doctrines to divide national unity.
Dr.Shafi Al Hajry, professor at the college of law in Qatar University, called for the importance of coexistence between the sects in the Arab Gulf region. He continue saying that “ there are old differences and also disparagements about constants, this matter dos not pose a threat if not interfere with policy, although there are differences between Sunnis and Shiites, but there are also common dominators as well, and this does not prevent the existence of differences between Sunnis themselves.
About the role of the media in dealing with religious diversity, Ali Al Dofairy a social journalist in Aljazeera, spoke about the existence of number of media that contribute negatively in fueling sectarian differences. He added there is boldness in raising such issues but we need dialogue maybe we disagree but coexistence should be the base which bring us together.
There is no doubt that there is a need to strive to accomplish these objectives, but beginning with a positive and fruitful conference like this one was necessary and a first step in the right direction.