Dubai: “The fact that, for the first time in centuries, a new Jewish community established in the heart of the Arab world is nothing short of historic. This represents, in a way, its own call to prayer and I speak on behalf of the Jewish community, it’s our responsibility to answer,” said the newly-announced Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community of the UAE, Yehuda Sarna, during a speech on Tolerance Day on November 15, 2019.
For centuries, Jews and Arabs have peacefully co-existed. They’ve done business together, lived as neighbors and even married one another. Even the Prophet Mohammed peace be upon him, was married to a Jewish woman. Her name was Safiyyah Bint Huyayy.
From the time of the prophet until the early 20th century Jews and Arabs mixed together. From Baghdad to Beirut and Cairo as well.
Many young Egyptians, myself included, had no idea that in the early 1900s, Egypt was home to around 80,000 Jews, who lived alongside Christians and Muslims in a flourishing multicultural society.
By 1948 most left or emigrated when the Israeli-Arab conflicted started.
Today, Jews living in Muslim countries have been reduced to a very small portion of their former population sizes. Iran, Turkey and Morocco are currently home to the largest remaining Jewish populations in the region, with some Jewish families residing in Bahrain and Egypt.
The population census in these countries however, can’t always be accurate.
It is safe to say that there’s been decades of strain between Jews and Arabs.
But in September of this year, the UAE made a historic declaration by announcing a new UAE landmark, which will feature a church, mosque and synagogue built in the same location in Abu Dhabi.
It's a brand-new Jewish place of worship in the Arab World.
The church, mosque and synagogue will share a collective space for the first time, serving as a community for inter-religious dialogue and exchange the values of peaceful co-existence and acceptance among different beliefs, nationalities and cultures.
Although this was heralded around the world as a pioneering move by the UAE, the fact that Muslims and Jews will be worshipping near each other should not be breaking news.
Historically, the two religions have been shaped by similar theologies, rituals and beliefs: These include considering themselves the sons of Abraham, having faith in One God, fasting, circumcision, dietary laws, similar practices of ritual slaughter and burial customs.
The Quran even aknowledges and pays respects to Judaism.
But most importantly, Arab Muslims are taught to respect all other religions, as they do their own.
The existing Jewish community in Dubai
Although the UAE never had a significant history with Jews, their government is still pioneering tolerance as a move to highlight the UAE as a global capital for acceptance and to instill the values of co-existence and peace in local, regional and international communities.
“We have slowly found our place in the ecosystem of the UAE,” Ross Kriel, the president of a Jewish Community in the UAE, told the Associated Press in October.
“It reflects our optimism about the future of the UAE as a place for us to commune, contribute and flourish.”
The Abrahamic Family House, just one example of the UAE’s fostering of mutual understanding, will include a church, mosque, synagogue and education center.
Year of Tolerance
One of the pillars of the Year of Tolerance was to solidify the UAE as the global capital for tolerance.
The Year of Tolerance included a visit by Pope Francis, an inter-faith conference including American rabbis and Christian evangelicals, and the creation of a Ministry of Tolerance.
Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of Department of Culture Abu Dhabi told Gulf News, “The country’s values of respect and peaceful co-existence stretch back to the UAE’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, whose vision for a diverse and welcoming society lives on today.
This place of learning, dialogue and worship will be located in the cultural and educational center of the UAE capital along with New York University Abu Dhabi, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Zayed Museum and other institutions
"The Abrahamic Family House, just one example of the UAE’s fostering of mutual understanding, will include a church, mosque, synagogue and education center.
"This place of learning, dialogue and worship will be located in the cultural and educational center of the UAE capital along with New York University Abu Dhabi, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Zayed Museum and other institutions.”
Sarna told AP in October that the UAE has genuinely become “a major global hub and point of encounter between religions.”