x

Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

The UAE has a long history of tolerance and respect for all faiths

At Christmas, we have much to learn from Abu Dhabi's own three wise men

The renaming of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Mosque as Mary Mother of Jesus mosque aimed to promote bonds between religions / The National
The renaming of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Mosque as Mary Mother of Jesus mosque aimed to promote bonds between religions / The National

At a time of year when families and communities gather to celebrate the festive season, it is heartening to hear the story of the three wise men, whose peace caravan travels the world, spreading a message of shared love and respect rather than disharmony. Imam Mohamed Magid, rabbi Bruce Lustig and pastor Bob Roberts hold multi-faith retreats around the world to bring disparate communities together by breaking bread with one another and holding communal sports events. It is a simple, effective way to humanise “the other” and has built bridges of understanding and acceptance. But what is most heartwarming is the realisation that here in the UAE, we have been doing just that since its very foundation.

This country was formed on the principles of tolerance, spirituality and open-mindedness, values it holds dear today. In June this year, a mosque in Abu Dhabi next to the ever-popular St Andrew’s Church was renamed Mary Mother of Jesus mosque on the orders of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, who said it would “promote social connections between the followers of different religions”. The first churches actually appeared in the 1960s and houses of worship for other faiths are frequently packed with worshippers, whether it is St Joseph’s Catholic cathedral in Abu Dhabi, the Shiva and Krishna Hindu temples in Bur Dubai or St Paul’s church in Mussafah. More than 200 nationalities live side by side here, able to practise their faiths and celebrate their commonalities on a daily basis. Just as the Arab world historically led the way in science and civilisation because it promoted knowledge over differences in cultures, the UAE is setting a precedent. The country has enshrined those messages in a tolerance charter and inaugurated a Minister of State for Tolerance to ingrain acceptance and respect as core values in society.

More than 700 religious scholars and dignitaries marked that openness with the annual Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies earlier this month. It showed the American Peace Caravan was only one such initiative. The Egyptian Family House is another, in which grand imam Ahmed El Tayeb has joined forces with Pope Tawadros II, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, to advise government on public policy, such as an initiative to distribute textbooks in schools promoting shared values. At a time when religious divides are leaving ugly scars around the world and Jerusalem and Bethlehem, two of the most hallowed sites of all, are the subject of such conflict, these partnerships serve as a beacon of hope for us all.

Follow The National's Opinion section on Twitter