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(From left) Pastor Wael Haddad, Brig. Rashid Al Falasi, Maj-Gen. Abdullah Al Gayathi, Mohammad Saeed Al Neyadi, Pastor Jim Burgess, Father Mina Hanna and Pastor John Sugars during the Fellowship Church Celebrating Community Annual Iftar at at Jumeirah Creekside Hotel on Thursday. Image Credit: Atiq Ur Rehman /Gulf News

Dubai: Intolerance in society can be eradicated through proper dialogue, removal of mental barriers and having correct assumptions of one another, government officials and Christian leaders said in Dubai on Thursday.

Representatives from Christian churches and government officials gathered for a special iftar to “celebrate community” days before the end of Ramadan as part of the Year of Tolerance celebrations.

As the clock struck 7.04pm and the call to prayer sounded, Muslims and Christians broke bread together in a simple ceremony that allowed them to learn more from one another.

During the ceremony Major General Abdullah Al Gayathi, Director of the General Department of Protective Security and Emergency at Dubai Police, said: “We in the UAE come from different backgrounds, from more than 200 nations. We come together and live together in coexistence, in love and respect with one another in tolerance as exemplified by our UAE leaders.”

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Major General Abdullah Al Gayathi, Director of the General Department of Protective Security and Emergency at Dubai Police Image Credit: Atiq Ur Rehman /Gulf News

This example of spirit of tolerance in the UAE can be embraced and enjoyed in other parts of the world if people, regardless of their backgrounds, would be open to it, said Jim Burgess, Lead Pastor of the Fellowship Church, one of the organisers of the iftar.

“All of the leadership that I’ve been privileged to be around in the UAE have the same wonderful [tolerant] view and I just applaud them. I just wish the world could see how well people get along here in the UAE so that we can promote this [spirit of tolerance]. We [the world] need this very desperately,” said Burgess.

By changing perspectives and mindsets, societies can be more tolerant and inclusive, said Mohammad Saeed Al Neyadi, Director-General of the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments.

“First thing [to tackle] would be our assumptions. Every person has created certain assumptions in their mind and those assumptions become facts in their mindsets and then these dictate whatever decision we make,” said Al Neyadi. “So if we review our assumptions and validate those assumptions in a very good dialogue, I believe the negative assumptions will be eroded and a good dialogue will result in mutual respect and understanding,” he added.

Al Neyadi said religion is not the reason why some people cannot coexist.

“It’s not a matter of religion. Religion is not guilty. It’s our mindset and our assumptions that we have created. Every single person — Muslim or not — has differences in opinion. But we share 70 per cent similarities and interest in common things. Thirty per cent is the only difference. Let’s capitalise on the former and move on.

“Proper and good dialogue is the best way to understand and respect others, and also to accept them with their beliefs. Let’s be part of the solution and not the problem,” said Neyadi.

Part of the solution is aspiring to be better individuals by learning from one another, Pastor Burgess said.

“Just as a good marriage, as men and women treat each other properly and correctly, they learn from each other. They’re better together than they are apart. And I think the same is true for cultures and religions — Islam and Christianity. We can learn from each other. You can be a better Muslim, I can be a better Christian as we learn from each other and move forward together.”