The announcement that 2019 is to be the Year of Tolerance in the UAE is a fitting conclusion to the year-long celebration of the centenary of the birth of Sheikh Zayed. It serves as a reminder that, regardless of anniversaries, the Founding Father's principles are woven into the fabric of this nation. Rarely has the world needed such an event more. From the battlefields of the Middle East to the ballot boxes of Europe and the US, hatred and suspicion of "the other" are flourishing. Tolerance, an increasingly rare flower searching for the light, is being suffocated by the twin blights of extremism and populism.
By contrast, here in the UAE, a diverse, outward-looking nation that is home to the people of more than 200 nations and welcomes the followers of all faiths, it thrives. Respect for others, an intrinsic element of Islamic culture, is a cornerstone of government policy. In 2015 it was enshrined in a federal law, designed to end "discrimination against individuals or groups based on religion, caste, doctrine, race, colour or ethnic origin". Since 2016, the UAE has also had a Minister of State for Tolerance, tasked with enforcing the nation's commitment to eradicating ideological, cultural and religious bigotry. The UAE National Programme for Tolerance, launched the same year, took as its guiding text the UN's definition of tolerance as "respect, acceptance and appreciation of the endless richness of our world's cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human".
In 2016, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said that the UAE had learnt from the "hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of refugees in our region that sectarian, ideological, cultural and religious bigotry only fuel the fires of rage. We cannot and will not allow this in our country." Last year, in recognition of the common beliefs shared by Christians and Muslims, the mosque alongside St Andrew's Church in Abu Dhabi was renamed Mary Mother of Jesus Mosque. It is this spirit of harmony that will be celebrated in February by the historic visit to Abu Dhabi by Pope Francis for an interfaith meeting with the theme of "human fraternity".
Tolerance is not a weakness. As the late US President John F Kennedy once said, neither is it evidence of a lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather, it is a joyful celebration and defence, of the wonder of humanity. The UAE is providing an example for stability and peaceful living to which the wider region and the entire world should aspire.