Noting the appreciation of diversity among the people who live in the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, says, “When the region was in its brightest times tolerant of the other and receptive to the other, it prevailed and led the world from Baghdad to Damascus to Andalusia.
We were beacons of knowledge, science and civilisation because we were based on real values that govern our relations with all civilisations, cultures and religions around us.”
Based on this statement of Sheikh Mohammed, I am going to take you on a quick journey of Islamic history that abounds with examples of tolerance. The example of Andalusian society, when Muslims ruled Spain for close to eight centuries, comes to mind.
While some Arab countries have been fighting for whatever reasons — hatred, sectarianism, discrimination etc — UAE has put all its means and effort to make the nation a peaceful place that embraces one and all
Historians assert that the Muslim caliphs in Andalusia embraced all religious sects. Muslim caliphs depended on Jews and Christians, who were highly qualified and skilled in performing tasks in the name of the Caliph.
For example, Abd al-Rahman III, ruler of Cordoba, appointed a Jew “Hasdai bin Ishaq” as ahead of the state finance. Gradually, he rose to the point of being a political representative of the Caliph. Later on, Hasdai became one of the most important diplomats and contributed to translating books into Arabic.
Convergence of faiths
This convergence between the sects of the Andalusian people led to the imprinting of the Muslim language and customs while preserving their own religion. This group was known as “the Arabists”. The Arabists translated books of Muslim scholars from Arabic into Hebrew and Latin.
Later on, the Islamic heritage (literature, arts, thoughts and science) was transferred to the Europe world. Many Jews played an essential role in translating Arabic books into Hebrew. Notables include “Ya’qub Ibn Mary” who translated Ibn Rushd’s books.
Musa Ibn Taboun translated 30 books, including “Arjouza fi Al-Hamat” by Ibn Sina, and “Al-Tariq” by Abu Bakr Al-Razi. Judah Bin Sulaiman translated the book “Maqamat al-Hariri,” and many others who were known as pioneers of the translation movement, such as Ibrahim Ibn Ezra, Abraham Beriha Hanse etc.
Another example of tolerance can be found in the Ayyubid state. A Jew known as Musa bin Maimon became the most important physician in the state, so Nur al-Din Ibn Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi, rule of Egypt, made him his own physician after that Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi appointed him as ahead of the Jewish community to be a responsible for the Jewish community in Egypt.
He received knowledge from three prominent Muslim scholars, namely: Ibn Al-Aflah, Ibn Al-Sayegh and Ibn Rushd and he was found of Ibn Rushd’s thoughts.
He studied Ibn Rushd’s book for thirteen years. Jewish historians affirmed that most of Mosa Ibn Maimun’s writings were influenced by Islamic philosophers’ thoughts. A case in point is his book “The Significance of the Perplexed.”
UAE has followed our ancestors’ steps by hosting a historic meeting in Abu Dhabi (February 2019) when two prominent religious figures — Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican and the Grand Imam Ahmed Al Tayyib Shaikh of Al-Azhar signed a document of human fraternity that prompted values of tolerance and coexistence.
Closeness between East and West
The document concludes: “This Declaration may be a sign of the closeness between East and West, between all who believe that God has created us to understand one another, cooperate with one another and live as brothers and sisters who love one another. This is what we hope and seek to achieve with the aim of finding a universal peace that all can enjoy in this life”.
The historic meeting was a prelude to the Jewish community’s recognition and their right to live side by side with Muslims and Christians and their right to practice their religion freely.
Abrahamic Family House
In 2019, UAE sent a firm message of religious unity to the world by establishing The Abrahamic Family House, a place of worship that embraces all three different religions Muslims, Jews and Christians to practice their own religions.
The Abrahamic House will highlight the rights of other religions to live, and dialogue on a peaceful land that rejects all means of hatred and racism. It gives everyone the right to live in dignity side by side.
Notably UAE deeply believes in coexistence and respect for people’s faith. This message of tolerance culminated recently with the signing of a peace treaty between the UAE and Israel. As Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum says, “We will provide an outstanding example to our neighbours.”
While some Arab countries have been fighting for whatever reasons — hatred, sectarianism, discrimination etc — UAE has put all its means and effort to make the nation a peaceful place that embraces one and all.
Dr Noura S. Al Mazrouei is a writer, academic and artist