Your Holiness, Pope Francis,
We, essentially, only have one request to ask of you, which you will find at the end of this letter, but allow us to introduce ourselves, because we are certain that the party that invited you to our country wouldn't want you to get to know us.
Welcome to Bahrain, the land of faith, the land of the sons of Abdul Qays. We have taken in the message of Christ here since the third century AD, and perhaps before that. This faith and love for Christ and his mother are still imprinted in the fabric of our existence.
Before this island even knew modern education, women were teaching children the alphabet through the story of Jesus (peace be upon him). It is a fascinating story, written in the manuscripts of our books that narrate the demise of Mary (peace be upon her). Every year, we recite her story and the birth of Jesus in commemoration of her death. We give out ripe dates, bread and fresh produce in Mary's name, seeking blessings from her and her son.
One of the parables goes like this: Mary sends her son to school. He asks the teacher about the meaning of "Abjad hawaz" [name given to the Arabic alphabet arrangement]? The teacher does not know the answer, so he hits Jesus instead of answering him, so Jesus says to him: My mother sent me here so you could teach me, not hit me, but if you had asked me, I would have answered. Here, Jesus takes the role of the teacher, and says to him: Alef is for "There is no God but Allah"; Baa' is for Bahá'u'lláh (Glory of God), Jeem is for Jalálu'lláh (Majesty of God), and Dal is for Dawámu'lláh (Permanence of God).
That's how we learn the letters of the alphabet through the children's story of Jesus. We learn these words that refer to the oneness, beauty and permanence of God who is always protecting us and the world. The Christian faith, the knowledge of which we have consumed since an early age, opened our minds and hearts to the concept of monotheism in Islam, so we became peaceful Muslims with the message of Christianity ingrained in us.
In 1783, the ruling family came to this island, bringing with it their experience of the desert and invasion. It deemed us spoils of conquest, and took ownership over our farms and lands, and then imposed taxes on us. However, by virtue of centuries of civilization and deep cultural heritage rooted in our land, the ruling family failed to eliminate us, despite the killings, displacement, forced deportation, discrimination, and marginalization. We continued to write, create, resist, and inherit poetry, literature, jurisprudence, religion and stories that speak of our indigenousness, and the ruling family remained determined not to accept us as citizens and partners in power and governance.
The end of this year will mark the centenary of the political reforms that our Bahraini forefathers struggled and strived to implement through the British authority that removed the then ruler and imposed the first modern form of the state. However, the path of reform was cut short, so at the turn of every decade we witness an uprising, revolution, or a wave of protests, the last of which was the Arab Spring in 2011. Its outcomes have been catastrophic to this day, resulting in more than four thousand political prisoners of conscience, hundreds of displaced persons and political asylum seekers, executions, revocation of nationalities, stripping of citizenship rights, and demolition of mosques and destruction of cultural heritage, in addition to ongoing refusal to listen to any demands or calls for serious dialogue about these issues.
Your Holiness the Pontifex,
Yes, we are the indigenous people of this island, and our identity is baptized with the culture of Christ, his peace, love, and faith. You will find its signs in our names, the names of our villages, our vocabulary, our landmarks, the nature of our religion, our religious celebrations, our stories told by our grandmothers, and our good nature that rejects violence, conflict and hatred.
The people of this culture know that God's oneness, glory, majesty and permanence are all stated in the Quran, and the key to this monotheism is in (Abjad). They know through the story of Mary and the Quran that Imam Hussein is the savior as Jesus who embodies the Word, so they reject injustice and tyranny, love freedom, and treasure the Quranic verse that says: "Whoever kills a soul, without [it being guilty of] manslaughter or corruption on the earth, is as though he had killed all mankind, and whoever saves a life is as though he had saved all mankind. (5:32)" that resonates with what was mentioned in Luke 16:10, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much."
The killing of one soul is a great deal of injustice, and the persecution of one group is as the persecution of all people. We understand that defending one oppressed life and one oppressed group represents the message of Islam and that of Christianity, which is the message of the Holy See.
Your Holiness the Pontifex,
We believe we're among those whom the Apostle Paul is proud of in his epistle: "Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring" (2 Thessalonians 1:4). We have not lost our faith in Christ or in the love, peace and unity rooted in our culture. We are the sons of churches, mosques, and Husseiniyas. We are the sons of Muhammad, Jesus and Hussein.
Our religious and spiritual authority was in Nineveh, where the Eastern Christian Church lies, and Nineveh remained our point of reference after Imam Hussein baptized it with his blood for the word of truth, embodied in Christ, Muhammad, as well as the prophets and imams. And near Nineveh today lies our religious authority in the city of Najaf, where Sayyid Ali al-Sistani resides, whom you've met during your historic visit, which yielded an experience of mutual appreciation.
Your Holiness, we need a word of truth, fairness and dialogue. Since 2011 the political authorities in our country have used in their campaigns the mention of dialogue, religious pluralism, openness and tolerance with all minorities, yet it continues to oppress and persecute us, as well as diminish our political majority by political naturalization. That's because we constitute a weight that requires political representation and participation in the executive authority.
Your Holiness, Pope Francis,
Faith in our culture renders the image of man a beautiful manifestation of divinity. A well-known Sufi (mystic) says: "The truth has not been clad with a better garment than a human." We hope that the robe of Your Holiness will not be used to cover up the injustice that befalls us. We, the indigenous majority, ask you to offer a word worthy of the Holiness of the Holy See, a word that invites the authorities to a serious, not media-driven, dialogue with those whom they deem their opponents from the indigenous people and inheritors of the word of Christ and his grace. Your Holiness is well aware that putting forth empty words furthers the killing of people, and perpetuates immense injustice that Christ does not accept.
May your blessings and holiness continue, and may you be an advocate of the oppressed and an adversary of the oppressors!
The sons of Muhammad, Jesus and Bahrain