Keeping with the UAE’s vision for 2019 to be the ‘Year of Tolerance’, a group of expats took the opportunity on Thursday to celebrate Ramadan and partake in a special Iftar inside a church in Ras Al Khaimah.
In what could be a first, the expats, mainly from Kerala, India, spent the evening celebrating Ramadan and partaking in the Iftar inside St. Luke Anglican Church in the northern emirate.
St Luke Anglican Church is part of the Chaplaincy of Dubai and Sharjah with the Northern Emirates, within the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf; one of four Dioceses which make up the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, which is also a Province within the world-wide Anglican Communion. There are five churches within the chaplaincy: St Luke Anglican Church, Ras Al Khaimah; St Nicholas Anglican Church, Fujairah; St Martin Anglican Church, Sharjah; Christ Church (Anglican), Jebel Ali; and the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Dubai.
Chief priests from three religious groups – Hindus, Christians and Muslims – came together to spread the message of peace, love and harmony among the expatriate community in the UAE.
The event titled “Vishu Easter and Iftar meet”, was organised by the RAK Knowledge Theatre in conjunction with other community groups, including the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre based in the UAE.
A Hindu priest Swami Sandeep Anandagiri flew in especially from Trivandrum, Kerala to deliver a special message at the event.
Speaking to Gulf News, Anandagiri said: “We need more platforms like this to spread the message of love and peace. It is terrible living a life of hatred and violence. The state of Kerala in India is largely secular. And I was here spreading this message at the special Iftar. I have not seen an event like this where Muslims broke their fast and did Iftar prayers inside a church. It was a beautiful moment, one will be cherished for a long time. Attitude is key. If we see things positively and in the right manner, we will be able to make a positive difference around us,” said Anandagiri, who is chairman and managing director of the School of Bhagavad Gita in Trivandrum, Kerala.
Anandagiri also rendered an Upanishad, Shantimantra at the Iftar.
“In Kerala, inter-faith harmony is common. People of different religions come together in marriage and it is not considered a big deal in the state. We stand as one family bound together in love and respect. That is why this event meant a lot to me.”
Reverand Father Kent Middleton, who hails from South Africa, said he was enthusiastic about playing host to a secular Iftar and will be doing it on a regular basis going forward. “The whole ethos behind it was a fact that 2019 is the Year of Tolerance. We have a wonderful privilege in the UAE to live, work and worship alongside one another. Societies around the world [are] divided and fractured where there is so much lacking in terms of respect and dignity for one another. Yet, here in the UAE, we show people how we all live harmoniously. We are able to find unity in diversity.”
“As a priest I have to bring a religious aspect to it. Despite our differences we are all creators in the image of God. Therefore I see us as equals and we are one big family. A sight to behold was seeing my Muslim brothers praying inside the church premises. It was very moving.”
Reverand Father Nelson Fernandes, former parish priest of St. Luke Anglican church and the current chaplain of mission to seafarers in Dubai, said: “In all the 13 years I have lived in the UAE, I have not seen anything like this. To my knowledge, this is the first time a church held Iftar prayers inside its premises. I served as a parish priest in the church for eight years and the church was built under my leadership. Today it has created history and I am proud I was part of it all.”
Fernandes said: “When the RAK Knowledge Theatre had this vision to celebrate a secular Iftar, I approached my successor in the church, Reverand Kent Middleton to open the church for Iftar prayers and he did not need any convincing at all.”
Fernandes said the evening started at around 5pm when people started coming to the church. The key speech was delivered by Swamiji and he concluded the talk just before Iftar. "My message to everyone present was that no real believer in God and man can be a terrorist because every religion in this world teaches love and peace. One who does not believe in the love of man cannot love God in anyway,” he said.
Saidalavi Thayatt, general secretary of Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre, could not agree more. “The main agenda of the evening was to celebrate Ramadan and partake in the Iftar as one large community. There were no barriers as everyone sat together and enjoyed Iftar. After the meals, everyone did the Iftar prayers inside the church itself. It was truly a great moment.”
George Samuel, president of RAK Knowledge Theatre confirmed over 500 people were in attendance on Thursday.