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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06MANAMA236 2006-02-19 14:00:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Manama
Cable title:  

ISLAMIC AFFAIRS UNDER SECRETARY SUPPORTS ENHANCED

Tags:   PREL SCUL OEXC KPAO KISL KIRF BA REFORM OFFICIALS BILAT 
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This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANAMA 000236 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA, NEA/ARPI, R, ECA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/18/2016
TAGS: PREL SCUL OEXC KPAO KISL KIRF BA REFORM OFFICIALS BILAT
SUBJECT: ISLAMIC AFFAIRS UNDER SECRETARY SUPPORTS ENHANCED
CULTURAL EXCHANGES ON RELIGIOUS ISSUES

REF: MANAMA 0192

Classified by Ambassador William T. Monroe for reasons 1.4
(b) and (d).

-------
Summary
-------



1. (C) The Ambassador called on Islamic Affairs Under
Secretary Dr. Fareed Muftah February 7 to discuss cultural

SIPDIS
exchanges and religious issues in Bahrain. Muftah
characterized the October 2005 visit of Georgetown University
Chaplain Imam Yahya Hendi as "very effective" in promoting
cultural understanding and enrichment. He said Hendi could
have been as forward leaning in his public remarks as he was
in private meetings. Muftah supported the proposal of a
Voluntary Visitors program for 5-8 Bahraini clerics focusing
on Islam in the United States. In response to the
Ambassador's question, he said that Muslims had overreacted
to the Danish cartoons controversy. He called the American
position on the issue "honorable." He noted that, in the run
up to the final days of the Shia occasion of Ashura, the
Ministry was trying to spread tolerance and understanding by
arranging programs and contact between Sunni and Shia
scholars. End Summary.



--------------------------


Supporting Additional Exchange Programs


--------------------------





2. (C) Ministry of Islamic Affairs Under Secretary Dr.
Fareed Muftah told the Ambassador in their February 7 meeting
that the Ramadan (October 2005) visit of Georgetown
University Chaplain Imam Yahya Hendi was very effective in
promoting cultural understanding and enrichment. Muftah
apologized for the low turnout at some of the public events,
saying attracting a large audience during Ramadan can be
difficult. He said Hendi could have been as open and direct
in his lectures covering interfaith dialogue, Islam in
America, and religious tolerance and freedom as he was in
private; the people would have been receptive. But overall
the trip was very positive and constructive.



3. (C) The Ambassador replied that the United States wants
to develop additional means of cooperation on religious
affairs between the two countries. He proposed a voluntary
visitors program for 5-8 Bahraini Sunni and Shia clerics to
visit mosques, Muslim communities, and religious leaders in
Washington, DC and other American cities. Muftah agreed this
was a very good idea and promised to discuss it with Islamic
Affairs Minister (and Deputy PM) Shaikh Abdulla bin Khalid Al
Khalifa. (Muftah has since communicated Shaikh Abdulla's
approval for the program.) He suggested choosing Imams who
would communicate ideas learned in the U.S. to their
congregations during Friday prayer sermons. Muftah also
requested that additional American scholars visit Bahrain to
discuss religious affairs.



--------------------------


Overreaction to Cartoon Controversy


--------------------------





4. (C) In response to the Ambassador's question, Muftah said
that many Muslims had overreacted to the Danish cartoons
controversy, particularly among the ill-informed and
uneducated. Muslims' demands that the government and people
apologize in addition to the newspaper that published the
cartoons go too far and demonstrate that many Muslims are
"simple-minded people" who do not understand the difference
between independent newspapers and governments. They tend to
exaggerate and over-generalize. He noted that the Ministry
of Islamic Affairs had issued a public statement saying that
it was unacceptable for people to overreact to the
controversy. The U.S. position of condemning religious
intolerance while supporting freedom of speech was
"honorable."



5. (C) Muftah stated that he and other Bahraini religious
scholars have stressed in their Friday sermons that Muslims
harm their own reputation and image of Prophet Mohammed by
wars, bombings, killings, and "what we do to each other."
Burning embassies in Beirut and Damascus was "very strange"
and completely unacceptable. He recommended an ongoing
religious dialogue with the West, and especially the United
States, to promote understanding.



--------------------------


Inter-Community Contacts During Ashura


--------------------------





6. (C) Turning to events closer to home, Muftah said that
the Ministry was trying to spread awareness between Sunnis
and Shias in the run up to the occasion of Ashura. (Note:
The climax of the Shia holiday took place on February 8 and
9.) The Ministry had arranged for Sunni and Shia scholars to
appear together on Bahrain TV programs to discuss
coexistence, tolerance, understanding, and respect for
others' cultures. He said that audiences were mostly
receptive to these messages. Some Sunnis say that Ashura is
not their holiday, so they cannot address it. His response
is that Imam Hussain (Mohammed's grandson and the leading
figure in the Ashura commemoration) is for all Muslims, not
only Shia. He can serve to unify Muslims in the face of
global challenges.



7. (C) Muftah noted that some Sunni mosques, particularly
those following the fundamentalist Salafi interpretation,
hold programs to emphasize their Sunni identity during
Ashura. To counter these potentially provocative actions,
the Ministry promotes engagement between Sunnis and Shias
during Islamic occasions. He organized the visits of Sunni
scholars to matams (Shia religious community centers) during
Ashura to show understanding and to minimize suspicions.
Beyond Ashura, the Ministry plans to schedule monthly
lectures at the Grand Mosque by Sunni and Shia clerics, both
Bahraini and foreign, to promote "open-minded" views about
tolerance.

MONROE