Abu Dhabi's Abrahamic Family House is 'symbol of hope for better future'

Interfaith complex has become a lifeline for communities in its first year

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The Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi is a symbol for a better future, a senior figure from the multifaith centre told The National.

The interfaith complex is celebrating its first anniversary since opening to worshippers on Saadiyat Island on March 1 last year.

The centre is home to a mosque, church and synagogue, with more than 100,000 worshippers attending religious services in its first year.

The complex shows what can be achieved when people from different backgrounds come together, said the centre’s executive director.

It's a physical demonstration of tolerance
Rashid Ibrahim Rizgi

“The Abrahamic Family House gives me hope there is a better future out there,” said Abdulla Al Shehhi, acting executive director of the complex.

“On a weekly basis we see the communities from the three houses of worship coming together.

“Each evening you’ll have Muslims, Christians and Jews sitting together in the cafe after attending the separate houses of worship.

“The centre is designed to ensure people come together. They park in the same car park, enter by the same entrance, separate to go and worship and then, when they leave, they come together again.

“We have never seen any conflict or tension between them and that gives me hope for the future.”

The Abrahamic Family House was built as the 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.

Since officially opening its doors, there have been more than 100,000 visitors to Iman Ahmed El-Tayeb Mosque, St Francis’ Church and Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue.

Mr Al Shehhi estimated there were a similar amount of worshippers in that time as well.

He pointed out that many couples have opted to get married, as well as families choosing to get their children baptised, in the Roman Catholic Church.

A number of events have been taking place at the centre in recent weeks to mark the first anniversary.

In one project, more than 300 members of the community each made a tile, to be arranged in a mosaic in the Abrahamic Family House garden.

There have also regular performances from the children’s choir, The Little Singers of Paris.

And an exhibition titled Fraternal Visuals, which represents Arabic prayers from different faiths through calligraphy, will be open to the public until March 5.

A sense of community

The National spoke to community leaders from each of the three religions at the Abrahamic Family House, who agreed the centre plays a vital role, especially now with the escalating conflict in the Middle East.

“The house has a significant role to help bring people from different backgrounds together,” said Yahya Saeed Alnaeti, 33, a member of the Jewish community who frequently attends the synagogue.

“It helps to bring people closer who have different viewpoints, especially during turmoil in the region.

“The Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi is very important for me and the Jewish community in the UAE.

“We go to pray and attend religious lessons. It also allows us to welcome newcomers to our community,” said Mr Alnaeti, from Yemen.

A community leader from the mosque said the Abrahamic Family House served as an example of the importance of tolerance.

“It's a physical demonstration of tolerance,” said Rashid Ibrahim Rizgi, 38.

"It's important there's something like the Abrahamic Family House in the region that brings people together from different religions under one roof, [especially] considering the turmoil that's going on not far from us in other parts of the Middle East.”

The Tunisian-German also spoke about the importance of communicating with others from different backgrounds.

“It’s important to talk. We’ve seen from history that conflicts only get resolved when people communicate,” he said.

“If that doesn’t happen, then it just gets worse.”

A member of the Catholic church at the compound explained how the various interfaith activities allowed people to broaden their horizons.

“It provides an opportunity for dialogue and to build a new community of friends,” said Joao De Souza, 60, from Portugal.

“It’s a unique opportunity to bring people from the Muslim, Catholic and Jewish communities together.”

Updated: March 01, 2024, 3:00 AM