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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Progressive reforms reflect tolerance and coexistence

Faith-based mediation is a pivotal feature for global citizenship

The renaming of the mosque was a grand symbolic gesture.
The renaming of the mosque was a grand symbolic gesture.

At first glance, the decision to allow non-Muslims to settle matters of marriage and divorce through institutions of their own faith might seem to affect only a subset of the population. But it is in fact about much more than that. Much more than just about the making and breaking of bonds between couples. Instead, it needs to be understood within a broader context, and that would be in the aspiration of the country in general.

The UAE isn't in the business of marriage broker or counsellor, of course. Rather, it aspires to be an oasis in a troubled region. To be so, it seeks to make the mundane as resolutely ordinary as possible, including for those among us who are not of the majority faith. And so if, sadly, they need to divorce, then they should be able to do so under conditions they understand. Such "ordinariness" extended to, and protected for, those who are not of the majority group – however and in the many ways that that "majority" is construed – is the character of tolerance. In that regard, the UAE may be said to have achieved its aspiration.

Indeed, the country has sought in various ways to entrench ordinariness for those who live here but are not from the Gulf or even the wider region. Recently, a personal affairs court for non-Muslims was established. Through this, they can legally settle their family affairs – the estates of the deceased, for example – according to their beliefs and their faiths, instead of a process they might find alien and alienating. And last month, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, bestowed the name Mariam Umm Eisa to a mosque in the capital, in one stroke cementing the commonality between Islam and Christianity.

In a region stressed by conflict predicated on identity, we in the UAE suffer no insecurity over who we are. Indeed, the Emirati nation is buttressed and strengthened by its expatriate community of neighbours from nearly 200 nations. And how thoroughly and refreshingly ordinary that is for every single one of us. The only irony, perhaps. is that it takes the example of divorce to remind us of our unity in tolerance.

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