Abu Dhabi: Eighteen Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches, including St Joseph’s Cathedral -- Abu Dhabi’s oldest church -- and the country’s first traditional Hindu temple were awarded licences on Sunday.
Dr Mugheer Al Khaili, Chairman of the Department of Community Development, said the UAE is in the forefront of efforts aimed at achieving interaction among all religions and cultures and at promoting values of tolerance, love and peace across the world.
Tolerance, mutual respect and cooperation are key values of the UAE — a nation keenly interested in creating harmony among different segments of society, Al Khaili told the licence awarding ceremony held under the theme A Call For Harmony at the Emirates Palace.
Al Khaili said the Abrahamic Family House, which was unveiled in New York on Friday before construction begins on Saadiyat Island next year, is a manifestation of the Document on Human Fraternity signed by Pope Francis and Dr. Ahmed Al Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, during the pontiff’s visit to Abu Dhabi in February.
The document called for the reconciliation of people of all faiths and goodwill in service of universal peace.
Houses of worship in the emirate were built on land gifted by its Rulers and operated with informal approval from local authorities.
The Department of Community Development said the move will ensure religious leaders have a clear channel of communication, which they can use to ask for support or obtain permission to host special events.
On Sunday, Reverend Andy Thompson of St Andrew’s Church told Gulf News the presentation of the licences was a milestone in cementing the UAE’s commitment to Tolerance.
“Whereas previously, the ruling family gave land generously to the churches, there was no clearly defined administrative authority who had responsibility and oversight. Now there is a place that allows us to work through issues related to land, visas, special events and banking with confidence,” Reverend Thompson explained.
He said the DCD have worked hard to build relationships with the diverse communities in Abu Dhabi and have done so with professional courtesy and passion.
“It is fitting that the legislative apparatus which we have been looking for has been completed in the Year of Tolerance. For the Christian community in particular, this is a year we will remember. This is the year that State and Church relations came of age,” he said.
Brahmavihari Swami, senior religious leader of BAPS Hindu Mandir, said we have experienced an environment of love, tolerance and harmony everywhere in the UAE - right from the Royal Courts and the government departments to the people in the streets.
“Though we have always felt welcomed, the UAE government has gone one step further by creating a Department of Community Development which proactively attends to the needs of a diverse society. Furthermore, the issuance of official licenses to various places of worship in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi is a remarkable sign of sincerity,” Swami said.
He added we wholeheartedly welcome the special ceremony to license all spiritual places of worship.
“This will only strengthen the deep trust and sense of security between the government and religious institutions. It will form a pathway for greater communication and generate an atmosphere wherein under its shelter, communities will not just develop, but flourish,” Swami said.
Swami added we support the UAE in sending a clear message to the global community that the only way forward for humanity to achieve social harmony is through inclusiveness and tolerance. “The UAE is leading by example here and joining with people of different faiths and beliefs. This special ceremony most certainly illustrates the positivity and the shining light that is spreading throughout the UAE,” Swami said.
The country’s Christian population currently stands at 13 per cent, and the number is steadily increasing with more people coming in. The majority are foreigners working in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
There are two Hindu temples in Dubai — to accommodate the roughly 3.3 million Indians in the country — and one Sikh gurdwara.
Construction of Abu Dhabi’s first Hindu temple is currently underway, and is expected to open its doors in 2020.
Recognised Houses of worship
St. Joseph Cathedral
St. Mary Catholic Church
St. Paul’s Church
Coptic orthodox Church – Mushrif
Coptic Orthodox Church – Al Ain
Mar Thoma Church – Musaffah
St. George Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church
Mar Thoma Church – Al Ain
Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
St. George Orthodox Church
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East
St. Andrew’s Church
Evangelical Church - Mushrif
Brethren Christian Assembly
Evangelical Church - Al Ain
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
BAPS Hindu Mandir