Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 26 August 2019

Vicar in Abu Dhabi challenges stereotypes of religious intolerance

Reverend Canon Andrew Thompson says renaming Abu Dhabi's Mohamed bin Zayed Mosque to the Mary, Mother of Jesus Mosque, is an example of tolerance

Reverend Canon Andrew Thompson at St Andrew's Church in Abu Dhabi. The National
Reverend Canon Andrew Thompson at St Andrew's Church in Abu Dhabi. The National

An Anglican clergyman based in Abu Dhabi has challenged the stereotype of intolerance, saying that as a Christian leader in the UAE his faith is accepted and able to comfortably co-exist.

Reverend Canon Andrew Thompson was speaking at the UAE embassy in London about his book, Celebrating Tolerance: Religious Diversity in the United Arab Emirates that was released in February to coincide with the UAE's Year of Tolerance.

The event was hosted by Sulaiman Al Mazroui, the UAE ambassador to the UK and Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, the ambassador of Bahrain to Britain, was also in attendance.

“We know there is some intolerance that comes out of the Middle East, but I'd like to challenge that stereotype, being a Christian leader in the Middle East, and say that Christians are not persecuted in the United Arab Emirates. In fact, quite the opposite,” Mr Thompson said.

In 2016, the UAE established the Ministry of Tolerance to foster local and global partnerships that realise the potential in diversity. When the ministry was set up, the vicar looked into how faith communities in the UAE could build on the discourse of tolerance.

Mr Thompson, who has been chaplain of St Andrew’s Church in Abu Dhabi since 2010, said: “When I was sitting in a circle with different religious communities in 2016, we shared our stories and we realised we had a story to tell. Good news is coming out of the Middle East.”

So far in the Year of Tolerance, the UAE has held the Special Olympics and there has been historic visit from Pope Francis, who celebrated Mass for 180,000 people.

The author also touched on educational initiatives that have been rolled out in schools across the country that are intended to teach students about tolerance and cultural diversity.

The vicar said that the Year of Tolerance is an invitation from the UAE to other countries to join in and show tolerance towards others.

He said a good example of tolerance here was the renaming of Mohamed bin Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi to the Mary, Mother of Jesus Mosque in June 2017, showing the country’s values towards interfaith co-existence.

Mr Thompson said that it was “an iconic statement of what defines Emirati Islam”, a country that is home to 200 different nationalities.

“This is not a story where Emiratis are being told they have to tolerate all these foreigners who live in their country or tolerating others living outside of their country. I read it as an invitation to all of us to join in and live it,” he said.

Mr Thompson’s book features a chapter on each practicing religion in the UAE, including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and various Christian faiths.

Minister of Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak wrote the book’s foreword and presented a copy to Pope Francis in Abu Dhabi in February.

“We are certain that his book will further the important conversation that needs to be had surrounding the peaceful position of communities of faith around the world and bring to light the roles the UAE can play in such a dialogue,” Mr Al Mazroui said.

He added that the UAE wanted to create a culture of co-existence, tolerance and acceptance. The establishment of a Ministry of Happiness, Ministry of Tolerance and Ministry of Artificial Intelligence was intended to create “a culture of young people who will grow up to accept others in a region that is plagued with a lot of turmoil and violence”.

Mr Al Mazroui said that the best way to tackle intolerance is to enable society to understand religion better.

“In the UAE, it starts with religion because religion itself must be understood. A lot of religion is misunderstood by people and this creates intolerance,” he said.

Updated: April 7, 2019 04:09 PM