EThere is no call to Friday prayer. Only the noise of traffic on the nearby Autobahn can be heard. Nothing remains of the Amir Mohammad Barbaghi Mosque in Aali, south of Manama. The more than 400-year-old Shiite church was a lovingly cared for gem, the facade was whitewashed, the dome was dark green. In the early morning of April 17, 2011, the bulldozers arrived. Soon no stone stood on the other. The rubble was immediately removed. Wheel tracks left by excavators and trucks in the sand.
Today, the desert floor where the mosque once stood is paved with paving stones. The prayer niche facing Mecca is back. The reconstruction of their mosque undertaken by the Shiites from Aali has made no progress. The afternoon sun shines from a milky sky. It’s an ominous scene.
Francis urges respect for human rights
At the same time, Pope Francis is celebrating an ecumenical prayer for peace in Awali at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia. Bahrain’s Minister of Justice is a guest of honor. Like all members of the government, he belongs to the Sunni royal family of the Al Khalifa, which has ruled over Bahrain since 1783. His ministry is also responsible for “Islamic Affairs and Foundations,” which means all things religious. The Ministry is something like the builder of the new cathedral: the royal family provided the site for the church.
In several speeches during his visit to Bahrain, the Pope praised the small country as an example of religious and cultural tolerance, but also urged compliance with human, women’s and workers’ rights and the abolition of the death penalty. As a guest of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the Pope will stay in the guest wing of Sakhir Palace from Thursday to Sunday during his visit.
Bahrain’s justice minister is also master of the bulldozers that razed the Amir Mohammad Barbaghi Mosque a decade ago. In mid-February 2011, the waves of the “Arabellion” reached the small kingdom on the Gulf. More than 170 demonstrators and a dozen police officers died during the week-long protests by Shiites, who make up around two-thirds of Bahrain’s citizens, against the Sunni dynasty of Al Khalifa.
The symbolic place has been obliterated
It was only when the big neighbor Saudi Arabia sent 1,000 soldiers with armored vehicles to Bahrain on March 14 that the uprising could be put down. On March 18, the Al Khalifas blew up the 90-meter-tall monument in Manama’s Pearl Square. Like Tahrir Square in Cairo, Pearl Square in Manama had become a symbolic site for an attempted dawn of democracy. So it was wiped out and renamed Al-Faruk Junction.
Over the next two months, a good three dozen Shiite mosques fell victim to this furor of extermination. Violations of development plans were given as the reason for the demolition, which mostly took place at night. Human rights organizations have described the situation in Bahrain since the violent end of the protests as a kind of cold war between the Sunni royal family and the Shiite majority. The political and spiritual leaders of the Shiites are in prison or in exile.
In a report released shortly before Pope Francis’ visit, Human Rights Watch (HRW) complained that in recent years Bahraini courts had handed down lengthy prison sentences and, increasingly, death sentences in sham trials after those accused confessed under torture. HRW says 88 percent of the men executed in Bahrain since 2011 have been convicted of terrorism charges and previously tortured. The public display of peaceful coexistence with some religions cannot acquit one dictatorship of oppressing and harassing another, the report said.