Maybe it was the first time for me to pray alongside people of other religions in one prayer room located in Jumeirah Hotel at Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi. I was surprised to see others worshipping God in their way. When I entered the room, I did not notice what was written on the room’s door — ‘Multi-Religion Prayer Room’!
This incident happened during the fifth edition of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies in Abu Dhabi early this month. Founded in 2014, the forum is chaired by Shaikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah, who is also the chairman of the UAE Fatwa Council.
The multi-faith prayer room sparked my curiosity, and I asked one of the forum’s organisers about it. He said the prayer room is dedicated to the followers of the Abrahamic religions, which refers to three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) that claim Abraham as their common forefather.
For us as Muslims, Abraham is a prophet and the father of all prophets. He was born in Iraq and died in Hebron in Palestine. I was impressed by the idea of having an interfaith prayer room, hoping this example will be extended to all countries where people of various religions can find an interfaith prayer space at markets, airports or train stations, and even at petrol and service stations.
The Abu Dhabi interfaith prayer room holds symbolic meaning and significance. Also, it gives positive energy and brings believers together, instead of promoting distinction and infighting. The Abu Dhabi initiative is a credit to the city, which has become a haven of love, tolerance and harmony.
The forum has chosen ‘Alliance of the Virtuous’ as its slogan, inspired by a historical event that happened in Makkah in 590 AD, 14 centuries ago, during the pre-Islamic era, also known as the age of Jahiliya. The event tells the story about the alliance of the virtuous (Hilf Al Fudhul in Arabic), which was formed to bring about respect and justice.
The story is about a Yemeni merchant who sold some goods to a notable member in Makkah who refused to pay the price. The merchant appealed to the Quraysh tribe, which was in power at that time, to help him get justice. The Quraysh held a meeting at the house of their chief, Abdullah Bin Jada’an, in Makkah, the powerful city in Arabia. The chiefs and members of tribes arrived at a pact in which they pledged to respect the principles of justice, and collectively intervene in conflicts to establish justice. The pact was written and placed inside the Ka’aba, the holy place for Arabs that time.
The three-day forum, held under the patronage of Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, is a serious attempt to link the 21st century to the sixth century, with a focus on human rights. It also links the present to the past by connecting Abu Dhabi to Makkah, to highlight efforts aimed at bringing about justice to the oppressed and delivering rights back to their owners.
Ethical values and virtues are not linked to a limited or certain place but the entire world. They are linked to humanity as a combination of the values of love, justice, equality, tolerance and solidarity for the good of all human beings. Although reviving the alliance of the virtuous, which is a leading Arab document on human rights, makes us proud, it raises several questions.
Why was this document not presented to the world’s nations as the best form of expression of the values of Arabs and Muslims? Isn’t this delay in reviving and presenting this historical document a form of negligence?
We should stop saying that others do not want to understand us. Because we are the ones to be blamed for failing to highlight the treasures of our heritage for recognition by the United Nations.
So it was encouraging to note that this document was revived by the forum, which chose to create a global alliance of the virtuous. By doing so, the Abu Dhabi forum introduced the world to the noble message and goals of the document as the oldest and best document on earth that was not preceded by any similar charter of human rights.
It is even better than the British Magna Carta, a charter of rights adopted in 1225. We should be proud that we are the heirs of the first alliance of the virtuous. Because this document is a contemporary approach towards the idea of human rights and is an iconic Arab charter of rights that helps deepen the values of justice and equality.
We also should use it as a testimony to remind us our rights.
Mohammad Hassan Al Harbi is a renowned columnist and author whose writings cover various fields ranging from media studies to education.