Abu Dhabi’s dedication to religious tolerance is now enshrined in a stunning new precinct on Saadiyat Island.
The Abrahamic Family House celebrates the shared values of Islam, Judaism and Christianity with a mosque, synagogue and church at one site.
Designed by Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye, the Abrahamic Family House is welcoming worshippers before it officially opens to the public next Wednesday.
The National was one of the first to visit and this is what to expect.
The Welcome Centre
Driving to the Abrahamic Family House is relatively straightforward. Taking the Saadiyat Island exit of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Street, it is beside the soon-to-be-built Zayed National Museum. Louvre Abu Dhabi is also nearby.
After parking in the underground car park and having my bag scanned, I am ushered towards The Welcome Centre. It is a large rectangular space full of warm lighting, and it has an elegant yet minimal reception booth. It also doubles up as an events space. Dotted on the walls are the historical milestones that led to the creation of The Abrahamic Family House.
The centrepiece is The Document on Human Fraternity, a joint statement signed by Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, and Sheikh Ahmed El Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar, in Abu Dhabi in 2019.
It all feels soothing and sets the right mental tone for a journey of contemplation and reverence.
The elevated space, accessed via a set of stairs or a lift, is a great way to begin a visit.
I can appreciate the Abrahamic Family House's vision, as the garden, which features more than 200 local plants, connects to all three houses of worship.
Look carefully and you will see surrounding Saadiyat Island residential communities, Louvre Abu Dhabi, and NYU Abu Dhabi and Berklee Abu Dhabi universities.
It's then that I begin to understand the significance of The Abrahamic Family House. This is a place connecting faith with community; the wisdom and treasures of the past with the enterprising promise of the future.
All three houses of worship are similar architecturally and feature stone, water, wood and metal.
Named after the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, the Eminence Ahmed El Tayeb Mosque has capacity for three hundred people and is defined by seven arches. The number is of particular significance to the faith as it is widely referenced in Islamic knowledge and practice.
Separate ablution areas flank the mosque and plenty of cubby holes are available to place your shoes prior to entry. Step inside and you enter a space as intimate as it is cavernous.
Ornate chandeliers, a feature of most mosques, are replaced by discreet and powerful spotlights. The high ceilings are domed so the sound richly reverberates, while the soft auburn-coloured carpet comes with ingrained lines to guide worshippers when standing in prayer.
Generous shafts of light pierce through windows, which are engraved with Islamic motifs, and fall on the carpet in the shape of pearls. It is a tranquil space suited for moments of reflection.
The different architectural features of each house of faith are small yet clear.
The Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue has seven pillars on the ground and eight above supporting the roof. The message being, according to our guide, that God is bigger than any human creation.
The synagogue is after the 12th-century Jewish scholar and astronomer who worked in Morocco and Egypt. It has a mikveh — a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion — outside the prayer hall. There is also a smaller space for religious studies.
The Ten Commandments are printed in Hebrew and flank the walls of the prayer hall.
A metallic bronze structure, emanating natural light and shaped like a curtain, hovers up by the roof. Our guide says the zigzag shapes of the structure are similar to tents and represent Jewish communities of old congregating to practise their religion.
A plain golden crucifix hangs in the middle of St Francis Church, a Catholic church that welcomes Christians of all denominations.
It is an airy and acoustically pristine space defined by floor-to-ceiling windows and a wooden canopy. The altar is slightly elevated and the pews are spacious enough to accommodate up to 300 people.
Outside is a small triangular pool of water to symbolise the Trinity of Christianity and the three Abrahamic faiths.
What’s to come
Regular prayer services are already under way, including the pre-dawn fajr prayer at the mosque. A programme of events is being planned for across the site.
In addition to ticketed daily guided tours, each house of worship will organise events prevalent to its faith. Interfaith events, from guest lectures to conferences, will be held at The Welcome Centre. All events will be updated on the Abrahamic Family House's website and social media channels.
More information about the Abrahamic Family House is available at forhumanfraternity.org