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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 February 2019

In profile: the key religious figures in Abu Dhabi during papal visit

Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist faiths all represented at the Global Fraternity Conference

Swami Brahmavihari speaks at the Global  Global Conference of Human Fraternity in Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Swami Brahmavihari speaks at the Global  Global Conference of Human Fraternity in Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The Pope's first ever visit to the UAE is a milestone moment for inter-faith relations in the country and the region as a whole.

During his three-day stay in the Emirates, Pope Francis will attend the Global Fraternity conference in Abu Dhabi, a gathering of hundreds of religious leaders aiming to promote the virtues of peace and tolerance.

Leading representatives of a host of faiths have converged on the capital to strike a vital blow for humankind.

Here are some of the key figures taking part in the conference, spreading goodwill from all corners of the globe.

Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar University and Chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders

At the Pope’s side for much of his visit to the UAE, Dr Al Tayeb has played a leading role in reconciliation between Islam and the Catholic Church.

Regarded as a moderate voice for Muslims, he served as Grand Mufti of Egypt between 2002 and 2003 and in 2010 was appointed the Grand Imam of Al Ahzar, the thousand-year-old university in Cairo that is regarded as the leading academic school for Islam.

Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb greets the Pope at Abu Dhabi International Airport.     
Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb greets the Pope at Abu Dhabi International Airport.     

Bishop Julius, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church

General Bishop of Old Cairo and Supervisor of Coptic Churches in the Gulf region, Bishop Julius has previously visited the UAE as Special Representative of Pope Tawadros II, the spiritual leader of around 22 million Coptic Christian, most of whom live in Egypt.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - February 03, 2019: H.E. Bishop Julius speaks at the second session at the Global Conference of Human Fraternity. Sunday the 3rd of February 2019 at Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Bishop Julius. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Swami Brahmavihari, senior Hindu priest

Responsible for International Relations at the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam (BAPS) Swaminarayan Sanstha, a Hindu religious and social organisation founded over a century ago by the Swaminarayan branch of Hinduism.

He has been supportive of the UAE’s position on religious tolerance and played a large part in gaining approval for a new temple to be built in Abu Dhabi.

Swami Brahmavihari speaks at the Global  Global Conference of Human Fraternity in Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Swami Brahmavihari speaks at the Global  Global Conference of Human Fraternity in Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Olav Fykse Tveit, World Council of Churches

A Norwegian Lutheran pastor of the Protestant Christian church. Dr Tviet was first elected general secretary of the interfaith World Council of Churches in 2009 and for a second term in 2014.

He has set up contact groups with both Islamic and Jewish organisation in his native country and in 2013 was awarded the Al-Hussein Decoration for Distinguished Service for his work in interfaith dialogue by King Abdullah II of Jordan.

Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, is one of the host of religious leaders in Abu Dhabi. AFP    
Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, is one of the host of religious leaders in Abu Dhabi. AFP    

Pastor Bob Roberts, evangelical preacher

Founding pastor of the NorthWood evangelical megachurch in Texas, Bob Roberts has been outspoken of his condemnation of Islamophobia in the United States.

He has worked closely with Islamic organisations in many parts of the world, including leading a delegation from his church to Afghanistan to provide educational aid.

Pastor Bob Roberts, left, pictured with Imam Mohamed Magid and Rabbi Bruce Lustig. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
Pastor Bob Roberts, left, pictured with Imam Mohamed Magid and Rabbi Bruce Lustig. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

Othman Battikh, Grand Mufti of Tunisia

The son of hairdresser, Othman Battikh is a former judge and student of Islamic law who is regarded as a moderate. He is critical of Salafi and Wahabi doctrines and warned of the dangers of extremism to young people.

Appointed minister of religious affairs in 2015, he was first made Grand Mufti in 2008 then reappointed by the current president of Tunisia, Beji Caid Essebsi, in 2016.

Rabbi Marc Schneier

President of the Foundation for Ethical Understanding, which seeks to improve relations between American Jews and Muslims and African Americans.

Rabbi Schneier has written and spoken widely about improving interfaith dialogue and promoted the twinning of mosques and synagogues around the world. He has been commended for his work by the United States Congress.

 Rabbi Marc Schneier is in the UAE to attend the Global Conference of Human Fraternity. Victor Besa/The National
 Rabbi Marc Schneier is in the UAE to attend the Global Conference of Human Fraternity. Victor Besa/The National

Kosho Niwano, president of Rissho Kosei-Kaithe

Born in Tokyo, Kosho Niwano is the president of the Rissho Kosei-Kaithe branch of the Buddhism in Japan and the daughter of its founder.

She has worked closely with many interfaith organisations and is also a board member of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue.

Reverend Kosho Niwano speaking during a panel discussion at the Global Conference of Human Fraternity at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Reverend Kosho Niwano speaking during a panel discussion at the Global Conference of Human Fraternity at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Cardinal Bechara Boutros al-Rai

The 77th Patriarch of Antioch, Cardinal Bechara is the head of the Maronite Church, the largest Christian group in Lebanon.

He was appointed a Cardinal by Pope Benedict in 2012, and last year played a major role in the reconciliation of Lebanon’s rival Christian groups after decades of hostile caused by the country’s 20 year civil war. He has also spoken publicly of his desire to establish better relations with Muslims through “a sincere and complete dialogue.”

Updated: February 4, 2019 07:51 PM

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