Patriarch of one of the country's most prominent Indian families recognised by the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research.
Businessman Mohan Jashanmal honoured by Sheikh Nahyan
ABU DHABI // When Mohan Jashanmal came to the UAE in 1964, fresh water was being brought over from Bahrain in converted diesel drums. Today the businessman is the patriarch of one of the most prominent Indian families in the country.
It is a tale of hard-earned success, but one that Mr Jashanmal says is a sign of the UAE's tolerance at a time when sectarian strife is growing in some parts of the region.
"India is like my mother, but I have grown up here, earned my livelihood here, so this is like my father, and I have the greatest respect for my mother and father," he says.
Mr Jashanmal was honoured on Saturday at the majlis of Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research and an enthusiast for the country's ideals of inclusiveness.
Sheikh Nahyan spoke of equality as a value that is integral to the UAE and can be an example for others. "God created us equal," he said. "He created the human being, and he is honoured in all religions.
"He created the earth so all humans can live on it, develop themselves and help those in need, for all to live a good life, and for the human to help his brother the human being."
Human development has taken on a central role in the Government's strategy, he said. "The pillar of the Government's strategy is the human being, whether in terms of finding education, finding jobs, finding homes. It all revolves around serving the human being and raising the standard of living."
Sheikh Nahyan said it was necessary to provide security to people of all religions, values enshrined in the UAE through the late Sheikh Zayed, the founder of the nation, who believed that "religion is between the human and his God" and "the best of you is the one who is good to his brother".
Sheikh Nahyan inaugurated a new Coptic Orthodox church in Al Ain last month and condemned the bombing of a Christian church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria that killed 21 people and injured scores of others.
His comments come amid a rising tide of violence threatening minorities in the region, with al Qa'eda pledging to attack Christians. A recent conference of Muslim parliamentarians in the capital called for greater measures to protect Christians and condemned violence against minorities.
The cosmopolitan nature and openness of the UAE was always a conscious choice, said Abdullah al Azdi, a former foreign ministry official and a mutual friend of Mr Jashanmal and Sheikh Nahyan.
"The lower part of the Arabian peninsula is open-minded, we were never closed or discriminating," he said.
From decades ago and continuing today, anyone can go to the country's rulers and ask for an audience, he said, regardless of their nationality or religion. "The Arab countries must follow in the Gulf's footsteps, even though we should learn from them," he said.
Dr al Azdi said it was wrong that Lebanon, for instance, faced a momentous collapse because of sectarian conflict. "Religion should not be a tool or a game," he said.
"You have 200 nationalities here and no problems," Mr Jashanmal said. "It is an Islamic country, but not Islamic in the way of Saudi Arabia or Iran. That is what Islam is, extremely tolerant, calling the Almighty the All Merciful."
Mr Jashanmal said he was grateful that the UAE had given him "the opportunity to serve the country".
Though most expatriates see the country as a transient home, it will not close its doors if people want to settle.
He was among a contingent that came to the UAE before it was the prosperous oil-rich nation it now is.
"When we came here in 1964 there was no water or electricity," he said. "Anyone can come when prosperity is going on."
"If you happen to like it and want to make your home here people won't tell you 'no'," he said.