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Cablegate: American Imam in Bahrain Stresses Shared Values,

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MANAMA 001571

SIPDIS

STATE for R (KHUGHES and DPOWELL), NEA/PPD, NEA/ARPI

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO PREL PGOV PTER OEXC BA
SUBJECT: American Imam in Bahrain Stresses Shared Values,
Interfaith Dialogue

Ref A: Manama 1292
Ref B: Manama 1433

1. Summary: U.S. speaker Imam Yahya Hendi, in public and
private appearances across Bahrain, urged religious leaders
to "put differences away," and to form a clear vision of the
future based on foundations of political, economic, and
social justice shared by Muslims, Christians, and Jews
alike. Imam Hendi was received as a special guest of the
Ministry of Islamic Affairs, and was thus given
extraordinary access to the most prominent religious leaders
as well as student leaders, women activists, and
journalists. His remarkable two-day visit was punctuated by
lectures at University of Bahrain, and the Beit Al Quran
museum, remarks at an Iftaar hosted by the Ambassador, and
culminating in a lecture at the Grand Mosque attended by the
deputy Prime Minister. In private meetings with government
officials, Hendi discussed sectarian divisions in Bahrain
and urged dialogue and reconciliation within Islam as well
as with other religions. End Summary.

Reclaiming Islam from Extremists
------------------------------------
2. On arrival in Bahrain Oct 19, Imam Hendi was received at
the airport by the Ambassador and the Under Secretary of
Islamic Affairs Dr. Fareed Muftah. Hendi and Muftah
discussed the growing influence of Muslims in America, and
the important role they play in forging connections with the
rest of the world. Both Hendi and Muftah cited the need for
more education to combat extremism. "It's about time we
reclaim Islam from the extremists," Hendi said.

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Bridging Sectarian Divisions
----------------------------
3. In a later meeting with Muftah, Hendi discussed sectarian
divisions in Bahrain. Hendi described the unity of Sunni
and Shia in the U.S., and emphasized the importance of
religious and political freedom. "A system not built on
absolute political, social, and economic justice, is a
system doomed to fail," Hendi said. Mufta said Bahrain's
Sunni and Shia communities could learn from this experience.
In a later meeting with the Minister of Islamic Affairs and
the Foreign Minister Hendi's assistance was requested in
organizing a conference to facilitate a dialogue between
Bahrain's sects and other religious communities. NOTE: A
similar request involving sending Bahraini clerics to the
U.S. was reported in Ref A, and requested by mission in Ref
B.

Positive Press Coverage: "A Different Image of America"
--------------------------------------------- ----------
4. Hendi's lecture to over 300 people at the Grand Mosque,
including the deputy Premier and the Foreign Minister, was
aired by Bahrain TV three times on Friday, October 21. All
Arabic and English dailies carried extensive coverage of
Hendi's visit, and the Imam conducted several interviews at
a local press roundtable. Bahrain state television recorded
an hour-long interview with Hendi as well as his lecture at
Beit Al Quran museum, both to be aired during the last week
in Ramadan. Mansoor Al-Jamri, editor of the independent
Arabic daily Al Wasat, wrote in his weekly column about the
Iftaar and Jama'a prayer at the Ambassador's residence: "The
most amazing thing was to have a mixed group of Muslims pray
and have Iftaar at the residence of the U.S. Ambassador.
The overall atmosphere was filled with spirituality and
conversations about religious tolerance and Islamic values.
Imam Hendi represents a different image of America; America
that likes to be called a "melting pot" for all races and
religions. This new face of America defies many concepts
that were engraved in our minds. America has become a
country that melts Muslims and non-Muslims while we are
still divided among our selves into smaller groups
endlessly."

5. Hendi attended a roundtable of Arabic and English print
media October 20. He tried to dispel impressions that
Muslims have been under pressure to convert to Christianity
in the U.S., noting the absolute religious freedom enjoyed
by Muslims in the U.S. On the issue of treatment of Muslims
at Guantanamo Bay, Hendi mentioned a group of influential
Muslims who have helped the U.S. draft a 48-page document
instructing the U.S. military on issues such as handling the
Quran respectfully. He also said soldiers are instructed to
comply with international law and incidents of abuse are
being investigated. He noted the number of Muslims working
in the U.S. government and military is on the increase.


"In the Spirit of Ramadan, Dialogue of all Religions"
--------------------------------------------- --------
6. Hendi's message of interfaith dialogue as a force for
unity resonated with Bahraini audiences. At the University
of Bahrain, Hendi delivered his message to faculty and
students from the Arabic and Islamic Studies Department.
Hendi said Islam is going through a difficult period. There
is a great need for public dialogue, scholarship, and
reconciliation. Conflict and war are disabling our ability
to deal with poverty and other important issues like the
environment and education. Islamic, Christian, and Judaic
teachings are nearly identical in the call for unity,
reconciliation, and peace. Hendi also described the health
of the seven million-strong Muslim community in America,
including the increasing number of mosques and the
availability of the Quran. He said Muslims in America, over
time, are likely to become a much more politically
influential minority. On the issue of Iraq, he said
"America is not interested in colonizing any nation."

7. In addition to his lecture, Hendi held meetings with
University President Sheikha Miriam Al Khalifa and Student
Council President (a Salafi student of Islamic Studies)
Ahmed Sultan Al-Harban.

Ambassador's Iftaar: "Same origins.same destiny"
--------------------------------------------- ---
8. Hendi's pivotal remarks at the Ambassador's Iftaar and
discussions with key religious leaders, politicians, and
opinion-leaders generated even more interest in the rest of
his visit. He received an invitation to Iftaar at the
Minister of Islamic Affair's home the following evening, and
positive commentary in the press. "When people ask me where
I am from, I often say I am from Dust. I am Dustian," said
Hendi, quoting the Biblical reference. "We all have the
same origins, and we all share a common destiny."

9. Hendi wove together quotes from the Quran, the Bible and
the Talmud in his remarks. After the meal he participated
in a lively discussion with a leading newspaper editor,
members of parliament, and religious officials. On parting,
one participant remarked to Hendi: "It is clear that you are
proud to be an American and proud to be a Muslim. And we
can all be proud of that."

Women's Empowermnent
--------------------
10. In a visit to the majlis of Ghada Jamsheer, head of the
Women's Petition Committee (a group that has advocated for
women's rights in matters of divorce, child custody, and
alimony) Hendi discussed how Islam as a religion guarantees
women complete political, social, and economic rights. This
precept has not always been followed by governments and has
often been misinterpreted by religious leaders. "A woman
should demand these rights just as she performs her prayers
on time," he said. Members of the Supreme Council for Women,
the government umbrella for women's advocacy groups,
expressed interest in working with Hendi in the future.

Grand Mosque: Reaching Across Faiths and Cultures
--------------------------------------------- ----
11. In his final appearance, Hendi gave an impassioned
lecture to the packed Grand Mosque in downtown Manama, which
the Ambassador attended. Hendi varied his themes of Islam
in America and interfaith dialogue, emphasizing the
importance of Ramadan fasting and charity as a philosophy of
living that all faiths share. In discussions with leaders
afterwards, including the Foreign Minister, Hendi addressed
sectarian divisions in Bahrain. The officials (The Ministry
of Islamic Affairs is predominantly Sunni) talked about
engaging in dialogue with the Christian church, and visiting
mosques in the Shia community. Officials also requested
Hendi's assistance in organizing a conference on Interfaith
dialogue.

12. Comment: We want to express our gratitude to IIP's
Peter Benda and others who made the extra effort to bring
Imam Hendi to the Gulf. His program was an astounding
success in advancing mission goals of promoting mutual
understanding across cultures, engaging women and youth
audiences, and promoting voices of tolerance to counter
extremism. Post plans for follow-on activities, including a
special exchange program on "Interfaith Dialogue" bringing
Bahraini clerics to the U.S. Now that Hendi is a known
quantity in Bahrain, other potential follow-on activities
may include: placement of articles or video by Hendi in
local media, webchats, and Hendi's possible participation in
a conference on Interfaith Dialogue to take place in Bahrain
later this year. End Comment.

MONROE

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