Dubai: Two Christian expatriates in the UAE — an Indian businessman and Anglican clergyman — were honoured on Tuesday as “UAE Pioneers”.
The prestigious award, conferred by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum on Tuesday, honours pioneers in various fields.
Now in its sixth edition, this year’s UAE Pioneers Award coincides with the Year of Tolerance. The felicitation ceremony for the awardees was held on Tuesday at the end of the Annual Meetings of the UAE Government 2019.
UAE Pioneer: Saji Cheriyan
Saji Cheriyan is a Christian expatriate in the UAE. The Indian businessman was dubbed an ambassador of peace and tolerance when he gifted the mosque to Muslim workers in Fujairah.
Built at a cost of Dh1.3 million in the East Ville Real Estate complex of Al Hayl Industrial Estate, the mosque named Mariam Um Eissa (Mary, the Mother of Jesus Mosque) can accommodate 250 worshippers at a time.
Several more hundreds pray on the courtyard of the mosque shaded with neem trees. The workers live in an accommodation complex that Cheriyan rented out to 53 companies in Fujairah.
Saji has also hosted iftars (end of the fast) for about 800 people, including workers and other senior employees of various companies at an air-conditioned convention centre that he had built in the same complex. Saji has been fasting with his workers during Ramadan for 13 years.
UAE Pioneer: Rev. Canon Andrew Thompson
He wrote a book, "Celebrating Tolerance: Religious Diversity in the United Arab Emirates" released in February 2019 to coincide with the UAE's Year of Tolerance.
"In many ways it’s easier being a Christian here than it is back in the United Kingdom,” Rev. Thompson said then.
“We know there is some intolerance that comes out of the Middle East, but I'd like to challenge that stereotype, being a Christian leader in the Middle East, and say that Christians are not persecuted in the United Arab Emirates. In fact, quite the opposite,” Rev Thompson told a forum at the UAE embassy in London earlier this year.
In 2016, the UAE established the Ministry of Tolerance. The ministry seeks to institutionalise local and global partnerships that realise the potential in diversity.
After the ministry was set up, Rev. Thomson, chaplain of St Andrew’s Church in Abu Dhabi since 2010, looked into how faith communities in the UAE could build on the discourse of tolerance.
“When I was sitting in a circle with different religious communities in 2016, we shared our stories and we realised we had a story to tell. Good news is coming out of the Middle East,” he said then.
According to Thompson, the roots of the UAE’s tolerance towards the Christian community were planted many years ago in a friendship between Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and Dr Pat Kennedy, a Christian missionary doctor who helped establish the first hospital in the country, the Al Ain Oasis Hospital.
In 2017, Rev. Thompson said that renaming Abu Dhabi's Mohamed bin Zayed Mosque to the "Mary, Mother of Jesus Mosque," is an example of tolerance.
Nomination for UAE Pioneers Initiative
- The initiative calls upon citizens to nominate individuals and projects that actively promoted tolerance, underlining the value of tolerance in the UAE as established by the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
- The nomination campaign this year, on the hashtag #UAE_Pioneers and through its website, received a huge response from the public with more than 3,000 nominations submitted until last Friday.
Now in its sixth edition, this year’s UAE Pioneers Award coincides with the Year of Tolerance. The pioneers felicitation ceremony was held at the end of the Annual Meetings of the UAE Government 2019.
One of the previous honorees of the award is the late Sultan Al Owais, who helped fund the building of the first public hospital in the UAE.
Fatima Ali Ibrahim, the UAE’s oldest female volunteer was also honoured, alongside Mohammed Ibrahim Obaid Allah, who helped establish the first specialised hospital for seniors and geriatric medicine in the country.
Other UAE Pioneers were the late Abdul Salam Rafi, who established the first specialised centre for diabetes and endocrinology, and the late Sheikh Ahmed bin Dalmouk, who founded a 100-year-old semi regular school in the country.