In 2016, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, announced an unprecedented restructuring of the Federal Government, with the creation of new ministries, including tolerance, happiness and youth affairs departments.
Sheikh Mohammed stated: “We have learned from events in our region over the past five years … [that] we need to study, teach and practice tolerance – and to instill it in our children, both through education and our own example… We have learned from 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.”
Since it was established in 1971, the UAE has managed to consolidate its image as a promoter of peace and symbol of tolerance. This was thanks to the late Sheikh Zayed, who laid the foundation of such an image in the UAE community. He was merciful and tolerant in his treatment of others. His generosity and humanitarian initiatives reached out to nations all over the world. He once said: “To treat every person, no matter what his creed or race, as a special soul, is a mark of Islam. It is just that point, embodied in the humanitarian tenets of Islam, that makes us so proud of it.” He believed in human diversity as an opportunity for mutual acquaintance, collaboration and building relations.
This approach has been consolidated by Sheikh Khalifa and has become a reality in this generous country that hosts nearly 200 nationalities, representing a wide variety of cultures, religions and races coexisting in peace, tolerance and harmony.
The country has issued legislation and laws that criminalise terrorism, extremism and incitement to hatred. This includes the Anti-Discrimination Law, which criminalises all acts related to contempt of religions or holy sites and all forms of hate speech.
Such legislation protects faiths, ensures the freedom of worship and emphasises tolerance within the system of values, customs and traditions that govern society. Moreover, the country has hosted and sponsored meetings of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, which has set up the Muslim Council of Elders, bringing together a distinguished group of enlightened religious scholars and intellectuals.
Within this context, many centres have been created, including Hedayah, the International Center of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism and the Sawab Centre, to tackle radical, extremist and hate speech that distorts the image of Islam and Muslims, and to promote the noble Islamic values that call for tolerance, dialogue and coexistence between nations.
The UAE has also introduced itself as a unique model in the world in terms of its openness to other nations, strengthening the values of diversity and coexistence. It will host branches of prestigious world museums, including the Louvre and Guggenheim, and has established branches of distinguished international universities, including Paris Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi and New York University Abu Dhabi, making the country a crossroads of civilisations and an area of interaction between different cultures. The UAE has also been actively promoting dialogue and understanding between different cultures and religions.
In this context, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, met Pope Francis during a visit to the Vatican in September 2016. This reflects our wise leaders’ strong belief in the values of tolerance, dialogue and coexistence between religions, and confirms their firm determination to promote such values worldwide.
The value of tolerance and the culture of giving have characterised the behaviour of Emiratis throughout history. After the UAE was established in 1971, these values have been preserved to reflect the civilised image of the country, which originate from Sheikh Zayed, whose legacy has been secured by his sons, from the noble Islamic values that call for tolerance, coexistence and moderation and, thirdly, from the Emirati ethics that have been sustained by a set of deeply-rooted Arab customs. Finally, the UAE Constitution and international conventions have provided a legal framework that ensures the protection and sustainability of these values. Therefore, it is no wonder that such bases form the main pillars of the National Tolerance Programme. This centres on various principles, including enhancing the role of the government to foster tolerance, strengthening the role of the close-knit family in establishing a tolerant community, consolidating the values of tolerance among youth to protect them against extremism, contributing to the international efforts to instill the values of tolerance and shedding light on the role of the UAE as a tolerant country.
The creation of the Ministry of State for Tolerance does not only aim to preserve the values of tolerance and coexistence that are already the norm in the UAE community, and introduce initiatives that stimulate and promote these values locally, regionally and globally, but it also aims to deliver a noble Emirati message to the world. This message states that instilling the values of tolerance, coexistence and respect of cultural diversity and denouncing speeches that incite hate, extremism and rejection of others must be at the forefront of national and international priorities. Such measures are the only way to achieve security, stability and peace.
The UAE’s unique step in creating the Ministry of State for Tolerance, and appointing Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi to head this portfolio, will consolidate the image of the UAE, both regionally and globally. It will make the UAE a fortress against all forms of extremism and hatred, and announce the country as a globally leading model in terms of government action that inspires other nations.
Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi is the director general of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research