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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Christian church hosts its first inter-faith iftar in Abu Dhabi

Muslims break their fast at St Andrew's Anglican church in the capital

Muslims and Christians share iftar at St Andrew’s Church in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday night to show gratitude to Sheikh Zayed and celebrate the church's 50th anniversary. Pawan Singh / The National
Muslims and Christians share iftar at St Andrew’s Church in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday night to show gratitude to Sheikh Zayed and celebrate the church's 50th anniversary. Pawan Singh / The National

Muslims and Christians came together on Wednesday for a special inter-faith iftar at St Andrew’s Church in Abu Dhabi.

It was the first time the Anglican place of worship has hosted such an event.

Attending the iftar was Hibo Osman, who was born in Manchester but grew up between the UK and Abu Dhabi.

“It feels awesome and it feels the tables have turned a little bit because it’s nice for non-Muslims to experience one of the best parts of Ramadan,” said Ms Osman, 37.

“I’m a British Muslim so I’m used to this inter-faith experience. I’m no more surprised to attend an iftar at a church in Abu Dhabi than I am to attend an iftar at a church in the UK. It doesn’t feel strange and feels part of the season.”

Standing beside Ms Osman was Mohammed Anis, 28.

“It goes to show these religions speak on universal human level – to have you as a guest in my house where you can practise your rituals preaches the universal values of life, which is a big highlight in both religions,” said Mr Anis, an Egyptian who was born and grew up here.

About 150 people came to the event and all the tables were full by the time the maghrib prayer sounded just after 7pm. People first broke their fast with some dates, water and laban.

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Also at the iftar was Paris Miller, who came to the UAE from North Carolina four years ago. She converted to Islam just before the 9/11 attacks and recounted those days last night.

“It was scary at times but also hopeful because for every one person who would say a nasty thing there would always be three of four others who would counter that,” said Ms Miller, a teacher. “We have to have conversations and dialogues.

“This event is an extension of the vision of Sheikh Zayed. This is who he was as a person. He was open, welcoming to people and I think he would probably be here at an event like this.”

Amplifying the message about Sheikh Zayed was Rev Andy Thompson, the senior chaplain at St Andrew’s.

Mr Thompson said the church organised the iftar to express gratitude to the Founding President for his commitment to tolerance and to mark the 50th anniversary of St Andrew’s.

Next to St Andrew’s and other churches is the Mariam Um Al Eisa Mosque.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, last year ordered that the mosque that previously carried his name should be renamed Mariam Umm Al Eisa or Mary, Mother of Jesus, to boost inter-faith links.

“The UAE has a long model of co-existence between different faith communities,” Mr Thompson said. “We are right at the heart of the city and if you like, a spiritual heartbeat for the expat community.

“And the mosque is sharing that heartbeat with us or rather, we are sharing the heartbeat with them.”