This year marks the 10th anniversary of the opening of Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Mosque. Millions of Muslims have worshipped in its magnificent prayer hall over the last decade. During this period, the mosque has grown into a major tourist attraction, drawing an estimated five million visitors from across the world every year. It is fitting that this milestone in Sheikh Zayed Mosque's history is being celebrated with an exhibition that showcases the rich diversity and tolerant traditions within Islam, and the pluralistic cultural and religious heritage of the UAE. Launched on Tuesday at the Sheikh Zayed Mosue, Hajj: Memories of a Journey pieces together, with the aid of nearly 200 artefacts, the story of the "world's greatest journey".
The items on display – loaned from 15 institutions, including from collections in Kuwait, Greece and the soon-to-be-built Zayed National Museum – set the visitors on a voyage of discovery. Pictures, postcards, multimedia installations and precious souvenirs brought back by pilgrims have all been curated in such a way as to tell the full story of the Hajj, from its beginnings to the present day.
The central feature of the exhibition is the Hajj performed by Sheikh Zayed, founder of the UAE, in 1979. An interview recorded with him at the time introduces a new generation to his vision, especially the emphasis Sheikh Zayed placed on tolerance. In January this year, more than 30 Christian leaders held prayers on Abu Dhabi's Sir Bani Yas Island, the site of a 7th century Nestorian monastery. The congregation was led by Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the UAE's minister of tolerance, who at the time said: "Nations develop and flourish when they accept differences and work on their similarities". The UAE's efforts to preserve its pre-Islamic past, especially at a time when historical monuments are being razed in the region, did not fail to move the visiting clergy.
This spirit of coexistence is on display at the Hajj exhibition, which for the first time is displaying friezes and panels excavated from the church in Sir Bani Yas. The Hajj exhibition shows us that it is the culture of tolerance fostered by Sheikh Zayed that makes the UAE stand out as a model of tolerant pluralism in a period marked by the rise of isolationism and intolerance.
Follow The National's Opinion section on Twitter