Bahrain Salafist society wants concerts cancelled
A Salafist society in Bahrain has called for the cancellation of the annual summer festival in respect of the Arabs and Muslims suffering in several countries.
“We request the culture ministry to respond to the wishes of the Bahraini street and respect the feelings of the Arab and Islamic nation during these critical times,” Al Asala posted on its website. “There are currently grave tragedies and calamities in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq and there are also destructive catastrophes. The forces of evil are targeting the nation. Innocent people are being killed and our brethren are being bombarded with chemicals,” the society said.
Such terrible exceptional conditions require a greater display of respect and the cancellation of all music festivals, dances and concerts to be held by the culture ministry in August and September, Al Asala said.
The ministry last week announced a programme of cultural events as part of the fifth Bahrain summer festival. Lebanese singer Majida Al Roumi, Arab Idol 2013 winner Mohammad Assaf, from Palestine, and Iraqi maqam specialist Fareeda Mohammad Ali will be among the top performers.
In introducing the festival, the ministry said that it will “bring its action-packed family-friendly line-up of amazing shows and events that will entertain and educate audiences from all ages and facilitate cultural exchange and dialogue.”
“The festival will focus on bringing people and nations together to engage and interact as evidenced by its multi-cultural lineup of shows and activities,” Shaikha Mai Bint Mohammad Al Khalifa, the culture minister, said.
“This year’s fifth edition of Bahrain Summer Festival is part of Manama: Capital of Arab Tourism 2013 leisure tourism season, with shows ranging from local, regional and international music performances, theatrical plays, art exhibitions, and much more,” she said.
However, Al Asala said that the plans for the concerts and the other events should be dropped.
“Inviting singers and dancers from different parts of the world clashes with the spiritual values promoted by the sacred month of Ramadan. We do not wish to see people come out of the high spiritualism of the month to find a line-up of songs and dances waiting for them,” the society said.
Ramadan, the month during which all physically fit Muslim men and women abstain from food and drink from sunrise until sunset is expected to start on July 9 and end on August 7. The summer festival is scheduled for August 18–September 9.
Al Asala said that people in Bahrain needed to focus more on spiritual devotion.
“God the Almighty saved Bahrain from a terrible sedition in 2011 thanks to the prayers of the people and His mercy on us. We should be grateful and we should obey God. Bahrain needs to thank God for His blessings. We stress that these concerts should be replaced with events that are tolerated in our religion and condoned by our values,” Al Asala said.
Shaikha Mai: Standoffs and controversies
Shaikha Mai, the former assistant undersecretary for culture and the minister of culture and information, has had several standoffs with conservative MPs over the cultural activities she has organised.
In 2012, several MPs called upon the minister to suspend cultural events, arguing that Bahrain should show compassion and sympathy with the people suffering in Syria.
However, their calls were resisted by Shaikha Mai and liberals who insisted on the significance of culture in promoting dialogue and interaction with other countries and civilisations.
The standoff slid into controversy when reports emerged that a mosque across a narrow street from the Shaikh Ebrahim Cultural Centre, where cultural activities were held, was asked to avoid using loudspeakers and not to call for prayers.
The reports were denied, but Islamists’ groups used them to attack the Spring of Culture Festival, an annual event held in March.
In April last year, angry protesters met near the centre where Shaikha Mai and a large audience, comprising dignitaries and diplomats, were attending a Qanun recital and shouted at them. The guests had to leave under security escort.
Shaikha Mai is popular among intellectuals and writers for her efforts to promote culture in Bahrain.
Instrumental in establishing several private institutions by buying and restoring old buildings, mainly in Muharraq, the traditional area of artistic activities in Bahrain, she has also organised events to highlight the contributions of poets, intellectuals and thinkers.
However, she has often been targeted by conservatives “for challenging local values and traditions and promoting onerous and useless activities under the banner of culture”.
She courted controversy in 2007 after a parliamentary ad-hoc panel pronounced her guilty of gross negligence by allowing a Lebanese dance troupe to stage a “sexually-charged and depraved show” during the Spring of Culture festival.