09/23/2019, 18.34
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Emirati authorities officially recognise 17 churches and a Hindu temple

The ceremony took place over the weekend under the banner "A call to harmony". New rules guarantee equal dignity to all faiths, in compliance with local laws. For Muslim leader, the country is moving towards "unity". For the local Indian community, it is a further sign of a climate of tolerance and dialogue.

Abu Dhabi (AsiaNews) – From the United Arab Emirates comes another, important signal of tolerance and openness towards non-Islamic religions. On the weekend, the authorities granted official recognition to a Hindu temple and 17 Christian places of worship, including churches built decades ago.

The historic ceremony was held last Saturday at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Under the banner "A call for harmony", the Department of Community Development (DCD) in Abu Dhabi decided to bring all religious institutions in the Emirates under a single umbrella so that the authorities could support them.

For the Indian community, this is great news. A member of the St Joseph Konkani community told AsiaNews that this is a sign of greater dialogue and tolerance in the Emirates, as evinced it the “Monthi Fest, the Nativity of Mother Mary on September 7th,” which was preceded by “the nine-day novena” and solemn functions.

"Many Indians, who lived, worked and prospered economically in the UAE for decades, travelled to the UAE for the Papal Mass celebrations in February,” a token of the close ties they still have with the country that welcomed them.

“For decades, our great leaders have welcomed people from various religions, making the UAE a place for all. Abu Dhabi is now a leading model for tolerance and co-existence,” said Dr Mugheer Al Khaili, chairman of the DCD.

In a country where most of the population is foreign, “The UAE is keen on embracing unity and promoting the inclusion of everyone who had contributed to the development of the country,” Al Khaili explained. “With this new initiative, the places of worship will now be working and operating under one umbrella.”

This confirms what happened in the last few months in the Emirates, which welcomed the Pope in February, the first Gulf nation to do so. A documentary about the historical event was broadcast recently on a local TV station.

In the UAE, the Church relies on the laity to pursue her mission, this according to the Vicar of Arabia. For them, the papal visit was a highlight moment, so was the uncovering of the oldest Christian site in the country.

The Department of Community Development notes that the new rules and policy will allow members of all religions to practise their faith freely, in accordance with the laws of the Emirates and without harming the customs and traditions of the majority Muslim population.

For al-Khaili, this is further sign that diversity in values is respected in the country where most places of worship are built on land donated by emirs and rulers,

One of them is St Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral, the emirate’s oldest church inaugurated in 1965. However, many other Christian denominations have been present for over 40 years.

St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi predates the founding of the UAE and has been the spiritual home of thousands of Christians for over five decades. Other churches include St George’s Orthodox Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, and Evangelical Community Church.

Of course, there are also "controversial" issues in the country, starting with its involvement in Yemen’s civil war and its pro-Saudi stance in the stand-off with Qatar. Domestic crackdown on dissent is another issue, as evinced by the 10-year sentence imposed on dissident Ahmed Mansoor.

Still, the Emirates remain a "happy island" in a region characterised by widespread intolerance and persecution, like in Saudi Arabia where no religion is not allowed except for Sunni Wahhabi Islam. (NC)

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