x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Freedom to pray with their communities makes expats feel closer to the UAE

Progress UAE: Open society fosters a sense of loyalty to the emirates, religious expatriates say.

DUBAI //Christians, Sikhs and Hindus say the freedom to pray with their communities makes them feel closer to the UAE.

"It's a small country but we are still given the freedom because the rulers know and understand that we can be free to pray and not upset others," said Jitendar Singh who runs a local charity group, Welfare of Mankind.

"To be allowed to pray and follow your own religion shows understanding and openness."

Parents said the spirit of service taught in religious institutions helped to shape their children. In the Sikh gurdwara, up to 600 people are fed community meals in a langar - community kitchen - hall where people sit cross-legged.

Rich and poor followers sit together after religious services to share a meal.

"My children understand the power of contribution, they donate 10 per cent of their pocket money every month," said Baljinder Kaur, 35, who takes her children, aged 7 and 9, to the gurdwara for Friday prayers.

"When serving meals there, they realise that time given in service is precious. Everyone feels more settled and secure."

Afra Williams treasures the bond forged with her children after attending Friday school at the Anglican Christ Church.

"It is lovely to hear them sing gospel songs," Mrs Williams said.

"The great thing about the UAE is that you can learn about your own faith and then you step out and there are more religions to learn from."

Carrying marigold garlands as offerings to the Hindu temple in Bur Dubai, Rajan Mattoo, a handyman, said: "Praying takes away our stress. There is tension being away from family but worship gives you relief and support. I pray for my family and I always also pray for this country."

rtalwar@thenational.ae