x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 September 2017

The majlis: Education is how we foster tolerance in the UAE

My home environment gave me the education I needed to understand my faith and to accept other cultures and religions.

In modern times, cross-­culture tolerance is vital to advance as a society. From a young age, I have been privileged to experience a wide range of cultures, societies and people from across the world.

When I was 11, I moved to a British school in Abu Dhabi because my parents believed in a strong education that integrated learning beyond regular curriculum. As part of my duties, I attended church every Sunday. For a ­Muslim girl, this was as unconventional as it was exciting. My memories and experiences from that time are still vivid. I remember our culturally and religiously diverse classroom, all of us oblivious to our differences and happy to be walking into church as one.

My home environment gave me the education I needed to understand my faith and to accept other cultures and religions. When I informed my parents of my church attendance, they told me: “Islam is a faith that stresses on respecting other faiths, so make sure you enter church with an utmost respect for its holy ground.”

This and many other life experiences have taught me that we should embrace our differences and learn tolerance from a young age. If we give children an enriching education about their faith at home, we shouldn’t fear exposing them to other religions. I believe that this helps embed tolerance.  

From school to college, I transitioned with ease. Jumping from one diverse community to another, I took many classes in the arts. One of the most intriguing and unique classes focused on ­Hinduism in theatre. As part of the course, I travelled to India and stayed with a Hindu family. The experience taught me the important role of love between people of different faiths and how beautiful it is to experience that.

At the start of the trip, with no mosques nearby, I was worried that I wouldn’t know when to pray. The father of the family, however, went above and beyond and asked his Muslim friends to call every prayer time, so he could inform me.

Two special things happened when he answered his phone. First, I could feel the strong bond he enjoyed with his Muslim friends despite their differences. Second, I saw the respect he had for different faiths. I truly believe that being exposed to different cultures can bring special, beautiful moments that we may otherwise never experience.

As I grew older, I had absolute conviction in Islam, but I had many religious questions – the kind that lots of people have floating in their minds but are too scared to raise. I decided to take a religions class to educate myself on other faiths and to have a safe space in which to discuss them.

This course, taught by a priest, was the most rewarding in my four years at college. Fear of tolerating different faiths and/or cultures stems from not knowing more about those other faiths or cultures. After learning more about other religions and their ideologies, I found they all have one thing in common: to instil peace and kindness in the world.

Tolerance is vital to our community because every day we are becoming more integrated with so many cultures and religions. This creates a complex but beautiful diversity that helps us all as individuals to learn from one another. It lets us teach our children to respect the different because, at the end of the day, we are all human and we are all alike.

I don’t have a formal education on the topic of tolerance, but I hope that my personal experiences can widen other people’s horizons. Sometimes real-life experiences provide sufficient foundation on which to discuss such complex matters.

* As told to Kathryn Roberts

Sara Alahbabi is a visual-arts graduate of NYU Abu Dhabi. She works at Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority and runs an art gallery in the emirate.