Religious tolerance: the UAE’s interfaith success

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The religious divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims has rarely been so apparent in contemporary times, as it is right now. Regionally, we have also seen, Copts, Kurds and Yazidis, among others, suffer the tragic consequences of an intolerance, most of us believed, or at least hoped, was gone for good in the modern world. Similar inter-factional conflicts abound across the globe, bringing with them misery and deprivation to millions of the world’s most seriously disenfranchised.

How can it be that one man can torture, murder or maim another he knows nothing about, other than the fact his religious beliefs do not exactly coincide with his own? Given that the teachings of all the world’s major religions are that man should look towards tolerance, love and an attempted understanding of all members of the human race, where are we going wrong?

To get the best results the idea of religious tolerance should be embraced at the highest levels, not only by Church, or Mosque, but also by the State, including its’ government and judiciary.

Within the countries of the Gulf – which has seen more than its share of religious-based internecine disputes during the 21st century – two countries, the UAE and Oman, stand out for their attempts to bring religious harmony to their own people and non-nationals who enjoy their hospitality.

Although both countries are strongly Islamic, both have helped people of other faiths find security in celebrating God in their own way.

Religious freedom has been a constant for the UAE since its formation, with religious freedom enshrined within the country’s national constitution. Article 32 of the constitution states “freedom to exercise religious worship is guaranteed in accordance with established customs and provided it does not conflict with public policy or violate public morals”.

The Vicar of St Andrew’s Church in Abu Dhabi, Canon Andy Thompson MBE, went so far as to tell the British Parliament of the UAE’s tradition of religious tolerance, describing it as a “model” for the region in 2015.

Canon Andy Thomson leads a Christian service at  St Andrews Church in Abu Dhabi
Canon Andy Thomson leads a Christian service at St Andrews Church in Abu Dhabi

 Canon Thompson who has lived for more than 25 years in the Gulf region, most of it in the UAE, addressed misperceptions about the Islamic religion, to an audience of British Parliamentarians at a meeting in London last year, where he explained the difference between moderate and extremist versions of Islam.

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Culture, Youth, and Community Development, explained to The Middle East magazine: “If people read the Koran, they would see that the Islamic religion tries to unite people. The Koran says, ‘if you save one life it’s like saving the whole of humanity; and if you kill one person you kill the whole of humanity’. “We all are created in this world to do good to each other, regardless of our belief and faith. Because, at the end of the day, we are all human beings.”

IN FEBRUARY: The Middle East magazine talks to Canon Andy Thomson MBE, in an exclusive interview

Andy

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