The Abrahamic Family House, a symbol of religious tolerance and harmony in the UAE, is attracting a growing number of worshippers, faith leaders have said.
In their first media interview, faith leaders heading the mosque, church, and synagogue spoke exclusively to The National about the transformative power of the space, as it opens hearts and minds to different traditions.
Located on Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Island, the multi-faith place of worship is a milestone in promoting peaceful coexistence in the UAE. Since its opening in March, worshippers have flocked to the complex, exceeding expectations.
“The number of worshippers for the Friday prayers exceeds the total capacity of 350,” Dr Mahmoud Al Khalaf, the Imam of the Eminence Ahmed Al Tayeb Mosque, told The National. “For instance, last Friday, we had more than 1,000 worshippers.”
Religion does not promote conflict
Dr Al Khalaf emphasised that the mosque, located within the same complex as the church and synagogue, promotes a culture of peaceful coexistence.
He said those who attend the prayers have the opportunity to meet followers of other faiths.
“It is actually an amazing experience for them,” he said. “They can communicate with each other, talk, and engage in conversations, which removes the barrier of ignorance.”
The Abrahamic Family House is a physical manifestation of the Document on Human Fraternity signed by Pope Francis and Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, during the pontiff's visit to the Emirates in 2019.
True to the spirit of the document, which aims to promote interfaith dialogue and harmony, Dr Al Khalaf said the Abrahamic Family House sends a clear message to people around the world to stop waging war in the name of religion.
“We want to tell the entire world that religions have nothing at all to do with wars or conflicts all over the world,” he said. “Religions are found in order to maintain peace and to achieve the welfare of all humanity.”
A model for the whole world
The St Francis Church within the complex is becoming an important place of worship for the UAE's Christian community, and is learning new perspectives on interfaith harmony, Father Darick D'Souza told The National.
“This is not just a community of Catholics but also includes Muslims and Jews,” he said.
“People come not only to practice their Catholic faith but also to observe and understand other faiths, how they live, and how they express themselves.”
There is a daily mass and special Sunday mass which more than 1,000 worshippers attend, again exceeding the designated capacity of 350, he said.
Father Darick said that since the opening, the faithful have celebrated various events such as the Holy Week, Good Friday, Easter, and the rosary month in May.
He said the Abrahamic Family House is becoming a model for the whole world, demonstrating that people can live together with love and harmony.
“It is all about accepting one another as brothers and sisters. That is the whole point,” he said.
“We can live with love and affection for one another, despite having differences. Imagine the whole world coloured with one paint. It would be such a boring place. It shouldn't be. And that is the speciality of this place.”
Interfaith relations grow organically
The Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue in the Abrahamic Family House is the first purpose-built Jewish place of worship in the Arab world.
Rabbi Yehuda Sarna said the synagogue has become a spiritual centre for the entire UAE Jewish community since its opening.
“We have had phenomenal celebrations in the lives of people and families, we've had weddings, we've had baby naming,” he said.
“The main synagogue is not just a place for people to come for prayers. It is also a place for people to come with their dreams.”
He said there's just been a “surge of excitement” for Jewish people coming from all over the world to come and pray in a purpose-built synagogue, the first in the Arab world in almost 100 years.
The synagogue is named after Moses Ben Maimon, a 12th-century scholar, philosopher and medical doctor from the Jewish community in the Middle East.
The UAE and Israel have had a robust diplomatic and bilateral partnership since the two countries signed the Abraham Accords in September 2020.
Rabbi Sarna said the Abrahamic House helps form interfaith connections in an organic way.
“We are breathing the same air, sharing the same cafe and encountering each other really through day-to-day interactions,” he said.
He pointed out how in the month of April, the overlap of Ramadan, Easter and the Jewish festival of Passover brought together people from all faiths in the same complex.
“We were literally within the same geographic area where thousands of people coming together, celebrating each in their own way, but also with an awareness that just next door there's another group, also celebrating their faith,” he said. “And rather than being a point of tension, it's a point of inspiration.”