Illustration Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

UAE is a young country by all counts, but the leap in progress and the milestones the nation has earned in 50 years is nothing short of incredible. Apart from the immense growth of the country in all fields from energy to space, there is something that UAE has been known for, and long before its union in 1971 – tolerance.

From setting up a worship space for Hindus, believed to be in the 1900s, to hosting Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church in 2019, the UAE has always been a model for cross-cultural and interfaith tolerance.

I believe that the great and strong people cannot be degraded or weakened by treating people with modesty and tolerance. Tolerance among humans begets mercy. One should be merciful and peaceful towards his fellow human brothers.

- The late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Founding Father of the UAE

Tolerance, co-existence and peace are the principles for which the UAE leadership have always wanted the country to be known. Since the era of the Founding Father the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE has been a key player and important partner, helping peace initiatives succeed both regionally and internationally.

His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, had proclaimed the year 2019 to be the "The Year of Tolerance" in the UAE, highlighting the UAE as a global capital for tolerance, and emphasizing tolerance as a universal concept. Events throughout 2019 were dedicated to celebrating the spirit of tolerance in the country, and how that reflected in the lives of people who reside and work in the UAE.

Instilling values of tolerance carries on Sheikh Zayed's legacy and teachings. It is one of the most important attributes that we can impact on our people and the global community to ensure the safety, stability and happiness of peoples across the world.

- President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan

A Ministry of Tolerance and Co-existence

With the world’s first Ministry of Tolerance and Coexistence [formerly Ministry of Tolerance] having been set up in 2016, these efforts and principles were given a legal framework.  Shaikha Lubna Al Qasimi was the first Minister of State for Tolerance.

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan is the current Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence. Under his leadership, many initiatives have been launched to promote the culture and values of tolerance and the impact of the soft power of the UAE. This includes recurring events such as the National Festival of Tolerance.

We need to study, teach, and practice tolerance and to instill it in our children, both through education and our own example. That is why we have appointed a Minister of State for Tolerance.

- His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

The UAE’s National Tolerance Programme is based on seven key pillars — Islam, the Constitution, Zayed’s legacy and ethics of the UAE, international conventions, archaeology and history, humanity and common values.

"Tolerance is like oxygen and the people of the UAE are the trees helping equally to produce the oxygen of tolerance," said Sheikh Nahayan.

A safe space for all

UAE, regionally and globally, is a model for tolerance and the principle for coexistence when it comes to one’s religion and faith.

Examples of these are many and across faiths. One would be the temple complex in Bur Dubai which has stood the test of time since the 1950s. In fact, there are some who believe that the structure was around since 1902.

New Hindu temple in Dubai

The foundation stone for a new Hindu Temple in Dubai was laid in 2020, and it will be open to Hindus inDubai  by Diwali 2022, according to plans revealed earlier in 2021. The temple will come up adjacent to the Guru Nanak Singh Darbar, Jebel Ali, and is an extension of the Sindhi Guru Durbar in Bur Dubai, according to the Community Development Authority, Dubai.

An ode to the culture of tolerance in Dubai and the UAE, the temple design intends to feature a blend of contemporary Hindu and Arabic elements.

BAPS Hindu Mandir

A Hindu mandir is taking shape at a 27-acre site in Abu Dhabi’s in Abu Mureikhah area, built by Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS).

Dubbed a ‘spiritual oasis for global harmony’, the temple’s final master plan as revealed in a video released by the BAPS showed a massive amphitheatre overlooking the shrine. A library, a classroom, a majlis and a community centre have also been featured within the compound.

The UAE, through its benevolent approach that was established by Sheikh Zayed, embodies a global model of tolerance and coexistence. It has won the love of millions around the world.

- His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces

Abrahamic Family House

In 2019, it was announced that a new UAE’s landmark, featuring a church, mosque and synagogue, will be built in Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. The unique and historic project dubbed the ‘Abrahamic Family House’, will reportedly open in 2022 and is among the first projects of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity

Abrahamic Family House
What the Abrahamic Family House will look like Image Credit: WAM

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Mariam, Umm Eisa

In 2017, the Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Mosque in Al Mushrif, a district in the capital Abu Dhabi, was renamed ‘Mariam, Umm Eisa’ — Arabic for ‘Mary, the mother of Jesus’.

The change was ordered by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to “consolidate bonds of humanity between followers of different religions”.

Residents are ambassadors of tolerance

The leadership, government and the people of the UAE are inspired by Sheikh Zayed’s legacy, thoughts, and firm approach to make the UAE an oasis of tolerance, pluralism and diversity, where people can live in an environment of acceptance, respect, and harmony.

- Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence

This principle is matched by the residents too. In 2018, Indian businessman, Saji Cheriyan, was dubbed an ambassador of peace and tolerance when he gifted a mosque to Muslim workers during Ramadan. They were living in a worker accommodation complex that he rented out to 53 companies in Fujairah.

At the time, Cheriyan said to Gulf News, “They have to spend at least Dh20 to go to Fujairah city or another industrial area to attend the Juma prayer in a mosque. So, I thought it will make them happy if I build a mosque here next to their accommodation.”

Built at a cost of Dh1.3 million in Al Hayl Industrial Estate, the mosque named Mariam, Um Eissa (Mary, the Mother of Jesus) can accommodate 250 worshippers at a time.

In another heart-touching story amid the pandemic, a UAE resident, Anna Arzua MacMillan, started an online platform to mobilise the community to share whatever resources each member had to help those who needed it the most.

The platform, called UAE Buddy, offers support in many ways, from emotional and mental support, and connecting job hunters to people who can help find a position to grocery shopping for someone with a chronic health condition and taking care of someone’s pet if they fall sick or need to be hospitalized.

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Sikhs and Muslims pray together at the Gurunanak Darbar Sikh Temple in Dubai after Iftar on the first day of Ramadan on 6th May, 2019. Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News

These are just a couple of stories from a countless accounts of how residents live tolerantly with one another, and proactively help each other through hard times regardless of race, religion, nationality or economic situations.

Peace efforts internationally

Over the past decades, the UAE participated in peacekeeping operations as part of many international initiatives.

 - In 1976, the country took part in the Arab Deterrent Force in Lebanon to prevent the eruption of a civil war and maintain peace. In 1991, it participated in the Peninsula Shield Force to liberate Kuwait with other Gulf Cooperation Council, GCC, countries and under the framework of the global alliance.

- The UAE has been committed to supporting other countries and rebuilding the damage caused by conflicts in Somalia, where it sent an army battalion in 1993 as part of a UN force, upon a Security Council resolution.

- In 1994, the UAE supported Bosnia after its war with Serbia and expressed concerns for the suffering of Bosnian Muslims, as well as contributed to many humanitarian projects aimed at helping rebuild Bosnia.

UAE Yemen
(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 04, 2015 Emirati soldiers, taking part in the Saudi-led operations against Yemeni Houthi rebels, stand during rehabilitation and demining operations at the al-Anad airbase in the southern Lahj governorate, some 50 kilometres north of the Red Sea port of Aden. The United Arab Emirates said on July 8, 2019 it was reducing the number of troops in war-torn Yemen and moving from a "military-first" strategy to a "peace-first" plan.

- In 1999, the UAE Armed Forces constructed camp in Kukes, Albania to shelter thousands of Kosovan refugees in Albania and participated in peacekeeping operations in Kosovo, being the only Muslim country to send forces to join peacekeeping forces in Kosovo upon NATO’s approval.

- In 2003, the UAE participated in peacekeeping operations with over 1,200 soldiers, who played a key role in securing the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Afghan people.

- After the riots in Bahrain and the foreign interventions in its internal affairs in March 2011, the UAE participated in the Peninsula Shield Force to support the country, which maintained the security, stability and unity of its people.

- In 2014, the UAE joined the global alliance against 'Daesh' and participated in military operations against the terrorist group in Syria, along with other Arab and foreign countries.

- In March 2015, the UAE participated in the military campaign, entitled, "Operation Decisive Storm'', which is a Saudi-led Coalition to support legitimacy in Yemen.

- The United States and the United Arab Emirates established the Sawab Center in 2015 to expose the emptiness of Daesh’s hateful propaganda and advance the Global Coalition’s work. Sawab messages daily on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube in Arabic, English, and French.

- On 25th July, 2018, the UAE’s efforts to achieve peace in the African Horn succeeded with the signing of the historic peace accord between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

- In 2020, Israel, UAE, Bahrain sign landmark US-brokered peace accords called the Abraham Accords.

In Photos: UAE tolerance facts and moments

What about the next 50 years?

Sheikh Mohammed said at the end of 2021 ministerial retreat that the UAE has presented a unique success story in all sectors, thanks to the futuristic vision and noble principles established by the founding leaders. He noted, "Over the past 50 years, we started from the desert of our land to the desert of Mars. Our dreams will be even bigger for the next 50 years."

He said the UAE has become a land of opportunities, home to a stable economy, advanced infrastructure, and agile and business-friendly legislative framework that attract entrepreneurs, investors and young talents. The diverse society of the UAE that lives in coexistence, tolerance and peace in a lifestyle that places the human wellbeing as a priority, he noted, is the most celebrated achievement that makes the UAE home to all residents and citizens.

Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid (right) and Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed attending UAE Ministerial Retreat held at Bab Al Shams Desert Resort, Dubai Image Credit: Dubai Media Office Twitter

Sheikh Mohammed added that the UAE presented an exceptional development model to the world that placed the human capital at the centre of all its development and economic plans. He stressed that the UAE is committed to providing all the necessary elements to sustain the excellence and development that have long distinguished the country. "We have reached this far because the impossible does not exist in the UAE. We have the scientific, educational and economic resources to take the UAE to new frontiers in the next 50 years, and we have Mohamed bin Zayed to lead this journey."

"Mohamed bin Zayed’s participation in the retreat lays out a new and clear 50-year vision for the UAE."

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed said the UAE looks to the future, while proudly holding on to the memory of the founding leaders and working hard to sustain and advance the solid foundation they laid for the country.

He said, "The UAE has reached where it is today, thanks to the values of tolerance and coexistence that the founding leaders Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid established from the beginning of our journey. The last 50 years were filled with prosperity, development and success, and we will need to move at a greater speed to meet our growing ambitions for the next 50 years."

He noted that the high motivation and energy of all participants in the retreat reflects the determination of the people of the UAE to succeed in all sectors of life.