Abu Dhabi: The UAE has long maintained a sense of harmony between its various communities, allowing each to stay true to its cultural and religious roots.
The value of tolerance was enshrined by the UAE’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Half a century after the country was formed, the emirate Sheikh Zayed not only has many well-loved mosques, including the iconic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, but also a number of places of worship for non-Muslim communities.
Places of worship
A total of 18 churches are prominent places of gathering and worship for their respective communities in Abu Dhabi. The UAE’s first Hindu temple is also currently under construction at Abu Dhabi’s Abu Mureikhah area.
Future plans in Abu Dhabi include the establishment of the country’s first synagogue, which will be part of the Abrahamic Family House, a multi-faith complex on Saadiyat Island that will also include a mosque and a church.
Meanwhile, the Abu Dhabi Department of Community Development (DCD) has been created to ensure that places of worship adhere to all the prescribed procedures, in cooperation with partners at government agencies. Its aim is to enable places of worship to smoothly carry out their activities, as defined under UAE law and help preserve the rights of the adherents of all religions and sects. In addition to coordinating with places of worship, the DCD has also invited public venues to set up multi-faith prayer rooms across the emirate.
The UAE celebrated its first International Day of Human Fraternity on February 4, with religious leaders praising the country’s tolerant outlook. Here Gulf News presents 18 places of worship in Abu Dhabi for non-Muslim communities.
Abu Dhabi city
St Joseph’s Cathedral
Located in Al Mushrif, St Joseph’s cathedral in Abu Dhabi is the city’s first church. It was initially located at Abu Dhabi Corniche and built on a loan provided by Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi at the time. Inaugurated in 1965, the church moved to its current location at Al Mushrif in 1983. The current complex, which was refurbished with additional spaces in 2014, includes a community hall, homes and offices of the clergy and employees, the bishop’s house, and St Joseph’s School.
The school itself is an integral part of Abu Dhabi’s private education sphere, offering an Indian curriculum education at affordable rates to more than 1,400 students.
During the first papal visit to the UAE in February 2019, Pope Francis paid a special visit to St Joseph’s Cathedral. Today, the parish consists of more than 100,000 expat Catholics from all over the world.
St Antony’s Cathedral
Also situated in Al Mushrif area, the striking cathedral caters to the Coptic Orthodox community, one of the Arab World’s oldest Christian communities. This particular church was opened in 1974, and its current location was established after 2004 on land donated by Sheikh Zayed. Its parishioners — most of whom hail from Egypt — have strong links with the Emirati community.
St Andrew’s Church
Like many of Abu Dhabi’s churches, this establishment was also first active on Abu Dhabi Corniche. Catering to Protestant Christians according to the Anglican faith, the church has been active since 1968. In 1984, the church moved to its current facility in Al Mushrif area.
Apart from providing an inclusive centre of worship for its community members, St Andrew’s is famous among people of other faiths for holding an annual Iftar every Ramadan.
The Evangelical Church
The Evangelical community has a long history in the UAE. Evangelicals Dr Pat Kennedy and Dr Marian Kennedy are known to have set up the famed Oasis Hospital — now Kanad Hospital — in Al Ain.
In the 1970s, members of the Evangelical community moved to the capital and began meeting in a warehouse on Abu Dhabi Corniche. They were later granted a piece of land in Al Mushrif and the current church began welcoming worshippers after 1994. Today, thousands of Christians from different congregations gather each week at the church for worship services, singing, prayer, children and youth ministry, and Bible study.
St Paul’s Church
One of Abu Dhabi’s latest churches, St Paul’s opened in the Musaffah area in 2015. The church caters to Catholic Christians from various countries, and also includes a number of social and charitable committees.
The Armenian Church
The Armenian Church was opened in Musaffah area in 2014, and serves members of the Armenian Orthodox community. Most of the community members who frequent the church for services hail from Armenia and Lebanon.
Mar Thoma Church
Members of the Mar Thoma Christians (St Thomas Christians) living in Abu Dhabi gather at the Mar Thoma Church in Abu Dhabi, located in the Musaffah area. The church was inaugurated in 2006 and worshippers typically hail from Kerala, India.
St George Orthodox Cathedral
The St George Orthodox Cathedral is another house of worship for Christian communities in Abu Dhabi. It serves Orthodox followers from India. The first house of worship for the community was located in Khalidiyah area. The current building was opened in 1982 in Al Mushrif.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The church opened in Musaffah area in 2013 to serve the Mormon community in the UAE. It is the first building in the Middle East and North Africa constructed as a meetinghouse for the community members.
Built on land donated by the Abu Dhabi leadership, the three-storey church building serves more than 1,000 community members living in the UAE, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.
Prophet Elias Cathedral
The Greek Orthodox community has had a long-standing presence in Abu Dhabi and Prophet Elias Cathedral was inaugurated to serve them in 2018. It is located in Musaffah area.
Brethren Church Centre
Opened in 2011, the Brethren Church Centre caters to the community of Brethren Christian Assembly members in the UAE. The building is located in Musaffah area.
BAPS Hindu Mandir
Currently under construction, the BAPS Hindu Mandir in Abu Mureikhah will serve the UAE’s Hindu community, which hails largely from India. The 13.7-acre land for the temple was granted by the Abu Dhabi leadership. The foundation stone was laid in 2019.
St George’s Church
The church serves the Jacobite Syriac Orthodox community in Al Ain and was opened in 2010. It is housed in the Al Khareer area and was built on land granted by the UAE Government in 2004.
Mar Thoma Church
This church opened its doors in 2009 and serves the community of St Thomas Christians in Al Ain. The building is located in the city’s Al Khareer area and famously hosts a Sunday School.
St Mary’s and St Shenoudah Coptic Orthodox Church
The St Mary’s and St Shenoudah Coptic Orthodox Church in Al Ain first opened in 2010. Prior to that, members of the community had worshipped at other facilities. The building is located in Al Ain’s Mazyad area.
St Dionysisus Orthodox Church
This church serves the Malankara Syrian Orthodox community, which mainly hails from Kerala, India. It was opened in 2010 and is located in Al Khareer area. Weekend activities at the church include weekend school, which is well-attended.
St Mary’s Catholic Church
Located at the base of Jebel Hafeet, this church first opened its doors in 1970 in an unequipped building. Later, it was finally moved to its current location in 2009. Serving the Catholic community, the facility had previously provided worship space for other Christian communities until their respective churches were set up.
The church, located off Kanad Hospital, formerly Oasis Hospital, serves Al Ain’s long-established Evangelical community. It was first opened in 1996. Like its Abu Dhabi city counterpart, the church hosts a prayer and reflection camp in Ramadan and also hosts Iftar gatherings.
Multi-faith prayer rooms
Initiated by the DCD, multi-faith prayer rooms aim to instill a sense of tolerance and coexistence across Abu Dhabi communities. Designed with practical considerations in mind, the rooms must be located in quiet locations, and must follow certain basic standards:
- They must be located in a quiet place.
- The room must be available for both men and women
- The room cannot be used for other purposes.
- Guidelines posted in the room must be written in Arabic, English, Hindi and Braille.
- The room must not have any colours or illustrations.
- There must be individual seats to respect people’s privacy and allow a place of rest for elders and people with special needs.
- Two multi-faith prayer rooms have already been set up: One at Abu Dhabi International Airport and another at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.
What is the International Day of Human Fraternity?
Recognised by the United Nations, the occasion was initiated by the UAE, in collaboration with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt. It underscores the UAE’s initiative to promote dialogue on coexistence on a global scale.