The recent news that Abu Dhabi’s Abrahamic Family House – a pioneering multi-faith complex comprising a mosque, church and synagogue – will open on March 1 is an important development that at its heart weaves together the old and the new.
Although the Arabian peninsula has historically been home to places of worship belonging to the three Abrahamic religions, this is the first time that Muslims, Jews and Christians will be able to worship at the same, purpose-built site, breaking down barriers and learning about each other’s traditions.
Named after Abraham, the prophet revered in Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the three houses of worship on Saadiyat Island – the Imam Al Tayeb Mosque, St Francis Church and Moses ben Maimon Synagogue – lead to a central garden under which will sit a museum and education centre.
The powerful message of co-existence this sends out is unmistakable and President Sheikh Mohamed – who initially announced the project in February 2019 – said on Thursday that the inauguration of the complex was in line with the UAE’s celebration of diversity and tolerance.
Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, and Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Tolerance and Co-existence, officially inaugurated the faith centre on Thursday, with Sheikh Saif saying the religious gathering place “embodies the UAE's values of mutual respect and peaceful co-existence”.
The story of the UAE being a shared space goes back centuries. In 2010, the remains of an ancient Christian monastery on Abu Dhabi’s Sir Bani Yas Island, believed to have been settled around 600 AD by a community of 30 to 40 monks, were opened to the public.
This was followed by another important find in November last year, when archaeologists discovered the remains of another Christian monastery on Al Sinniyah Island in Umm Al Quwain.
The presence of a Hebrew-language gravestone in Ras Al Khaimah dating back to between 1507 and 1650 also reveals the diverse mix of people and faiths who lived, worked and died in this region.
It is a mix that has become richer over years, and even more so in the 21st century, as the UAE becomes a home from home for more than 200 nationalities. Next year, for example, Abu Dhabi will witness the completion of a major Hindu temple being built on more than five hectares of land gifted to the Indian community in 2015 by Sheikh Mohamed.
The temple, with its hand-carved ornamentation, will join the significant architectural contribution made by the Abrahamic Family House. Designed by Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye, the complex’s elegant buildings complement not only the flourishing Cultural District on Saadiyat Island – already home to Louvre Abu Dhabi – but will become a stand-out feature of the capital in their own right.
More importantly, they are a physical expression of the Emirates’ continued recognition of diversity, not only within its own borders but around the world. The UAE has taken bold steps in this regard, hosting the first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula in 2019 and being the place where Pope Francis signed the Document on Human Fraternity with Ahmed Al Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar.
The Abrahamic Family House and the values it embodies also reflect a nation that doesn’t flinch from the complexity of the modern world. That Muslims, Christians and Jews will be able to share the same space and worship freely in a land that values its own Islamic heritage is surely something to be proud of.