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  • November 16 is marked as International Day for Tolerance.
  • UAE is home to hundreds of nationalities, faiths and cultures is a hub for tolerance.
  • We speak to people across religions.
  • They explain why the Emirates truly embodies understanding, harmony and acceptance.

Dubai: United Arab Emirates - home to hundreds of nationalities, faiths and cultures is a hub for tolerance. Today we hear from voices across religions that explain why the Emirates truly embodies understanding, harmony and acceptance.

Christians

The St. Thomas Orthodox Cathedral in Dubai promotes UAE’s ideology of tolerance. The church’s doors are open to people from all religions and nationalities.

The vicar and president of St. Thomas Orthodox Cathedral Dubai, Rev. Fr. Ninan Philip Panackamattam told Gulf News: “Even before the UAE was formed officially, the Indian Orthodox Church in Dubai received the freedom to worship, and the land for this purpose was generously gifted to us by Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Dubai’s Founding Father. The fact that we are now celebrating 50 glorious years of existence in the UAE in itself is proof enough of the sense of tolerance the country is renowned for.”

Free meal service on Good Friday at the St. Thomas Church in Dubai. Image Credit: Arshad Ali/Gulf News

The first Malankara Orthodox congregation in Dubai was officially inaugurated on December 2, 1968. The steady influx of people from Kerala in the following years resulted in an increase in the number of Malankara Orthodox Church members from the state. As the membership of the congregation steadily increased, the need for a formal church building became inevitable, and representations were made to the authorities concerned in this regard.

Treat others with the same tolerance as you have received from this great nation.”

- Rev. Fr. Ninan Philip Panackamattam, vicar and president of St. Thomas Orthodox Cathedral Dubai.

In 1972 church officials requested Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, for land to construct a church and he helped. According to the church’s official website, he gifted the plot of land on April 25. The first building could accommodate around 300 people. The parish now has a strength of nearly 4000 members.

Fr. Philip added: “My message to people in the UAE on the occasion of Tolerance Day is - treat others with the same tolerance as you have received from this great nation.”

Bishop Gregorios of the Emirates Patriarchal Vicar in the UAE, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East echoed the sentiment. He described tolerance in the UAE as being focussed on religious coexistence.

He said: “We’ll tell everyone... come and see for yourself, come and learn about it in a country wherein the law criminalises discrimination against an individual or groups on the basis of their religion, belief, sect, race, colour or ethnicity, and also combats the exploitation of religion to excommunicate an individual or groups.

“This law is simply a consolidation of the policy of dialogue and coexistence, ensuring a society’s stability and cohesion.

“The UAE is a real and living model for coexistence and tolerance. When we speak about religious coexistence and tolerance, we cannot turn a blind eye to a nation that has become a role model in this regard, not just in the Middle East, but also among the West.

“We must also not forget the UAE’s noble gesture in allocating plots as a grant to build houses of worship for different religions. Our church was honoured to have Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance opening our church earlier this year. May God bless this country with more growth, harmony and prosperity, for the better of humanity.”

Sikhs

“The UAE is spearheading towards becoming the world’s centre of tolerance,” said Surender Singh Kandhari, chairman of the Gurudwara Guru Nanak Darbar Sikh Temple in Dubai.

The first gurudwara in the UAE and the Gulf region was built upon land gifted to the Sikh community by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Gurudwara Guru Nanak Darbar Sikh Temple in Dubai Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Kandhari calls Dubai his home and said that it’s the most accepting city he has been to. “The world talks about tolerance, but Dubai actually practises it,” he said.

He has visited numerous conferences around the world on behalf of the Sikh community and credits the UAE for being an example for religious coexistence. “Whenever I go anywhere, I tell them to learn from the example of Dubai when it comes to acceptance,” he said.

The businessman who has lived in Dubai for 42 years added: “This is the safest, most secure and accepting place I’ve been to.”

“The world talks about tolerance, but Dubai actually practises it.”

- Surender Singh Kandhari, chairman of the Gurudwara Guru Nanak Darbar Sikh Temple in Dubai

He also said that the formation of the Ministry of Tolerance is a prime example of how Dubai aims to promote tolerance between various communities.

“I’m grateful for the interfaith harmony and religious pluralism that is practiced in the country,” Kandhari said.

The Sikh temple also practices tenets of tolerance. “We welcome people of any background, any faith into the gurudwara,” Kandhari said.

Each day, about 1,000 people are fed at the facility and about 5,000 people are fed on Fridays. The gurudwara has also broken several world records. This includes the Guinness World Record for feeding 101 nationalities breakfast at a place and at once.

Kandhari believes that respecting all human beings is most important and the UAE reflects that. “First and foremost, the UAE respects human beings, I have not experienced this elsewhere on the same level. The value of human life is very high here,” he said.

Buddhists

According to the International Religious Freedom Report for 2017, of the total population of the UAE, including both citizens and residents, 15 per cent belong to other religious groups comprising mainly of Hindus and Buddhists, but also including Parsis, Bahais, Druze and Sikhs. The Pew Research Center estimated that in 2010, 2 per cent were Buddhists, with the remaining percentage belonging to other faith traditions. To cater to this community, a place of worship has been set up for them in Dubai.

Rubesh Pillai, a volunteer managing the upkeep of and representing the Mahamevnawa Buddhist Monastery in Dubai, said: “There are around 150,000 Buddhists living in the UAE and we have found acceptance here. I truly feel that the UAE takes tolerance very seriously – from the leaders of the nation, to the citizens of this country. Calling the UAE ‘a tolerant country’ is a misnomer – the UAE is a truly welcoming country, not just tolerant. I can even say that our presence, our culture and religion is cherished and nurtured by the UAE. And for this I am truly grateful. I am proud to call the UAE my home.”

Mahamevnawa Buddhist Monastery in Dubai Image Credit: Antonin Kelian Kallouche/Gulf News

When asked what he thought about tolerance and its true meaning in relation to the different communities in the UAE, he decided to quote Buddha and said: “Let no one deceive another, nor despise anyone anywhere. Neither from anger nor ill will, should anyone wish harm to another. As a mother would risk her own life, to protect her only child, even so towards all living beings, one should cultivate boundless loving-kindness.”

As part of the monastery, Buddhist priests visit the UAE in order to take turns at being able to perform the puja or worship ceremony. They also lead sermons on the weekends. The chief priest and founder of the Mahamevawa Buddhist Monastery, Kiribathgoda Gnanananda Thero, also visits the country and monastery regularly to meet the members of the community.

When asked about tolerance in the UAE, Thero said: “I am constantly amazed and truly pleased with the welcome that greets me every time I visit the UAE. It is encouraging to see hundreds of nationalities and many, many religious faiths not only co-exist in the UAE, but also thrive and grow here. The leaders and people of the UAE must be congratulated for building a country and forging a society so tolerant and accepting of other faiths, religions and cultures. I see now that the tremendous growth that the country enjoys comes from accepting all these different faiths and nationalities. The UAE has chosen to welcome them and rejoice in them instead of taking the negative path of narrowness or rejection. The UAE has opened their hearts to us and for this, I will be eternally indebted to this country.”

The leaders and people of the UAE must be congratulated for building a country and forging a society so tolerant and accepting of other faiths, religions and cultures.

- Kiribathgoda Gnanananda Thero, chief priest and founder of the Mahamevawa Buddhist Monastery

Hindus

Nitin Chaturvedi, 31, a Hindu priest in Dubai said the UAE is a nation that practices religious tolerance. “A testament to this is the Abu Dhabi government taking the lead in allocating 22 acres of land to build a Hindu temple in the Capital. In Dubai, you have a Hindu temple and a mosque built next to each other. What is more people of different religious backgrounds are freely allowed to practice their faith in the UAE and to me that takes tolerance to a higher level.

“In the UAE people of different faiths co-exist peacefully as the government is very strict about any sort of intolerance. There are strict penalties and people learn to accept and respect each other for who they are. I truly feel safe living in the UAE.”

Hindu temple in Bur Dubai. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

The first Hindu temple came up in the 1900s in the Bur Dubai area and located adjacent to a mosque. This was the only Hindu temple to exist in the UAE until the Abu Dhabi government announced its plans to build a 55,000 square meter temple in the Capital.