Christmas celebrations in UAE carry messages of hope

Religious tolerance in UAE strengthens faith, say churches.

Children meet Santa Claus at his lodge in Ski Dubai at Mall of the Emirates. Reem Mohammed / The National
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DUBAI // Christmas is a time of peace, love, hope, understanding and friendship for all, Christian leaders across the UAE will tell churchgoers on Friday.

Priests, pastors and congregations will mark the day by opening their doors to the community, regardless of faith, in celebration of the Emirates’ spirit of tolerance, togetherness and religious freedom.

Anand Samuel, senior pastor from the Grace Evangelical Church in Sharjah, said the message of Christmas is one of love for all people.

“We want to communicate that to all who visit our church, regardless of their religious backgrounds, and to promote a dialogue between people of faiths in keeping with the wishes of Sheikh Zayed, who encouraged dialogue between faiths, and we want to honour that.”

Rev Timothy Heaney, chaplain at Christ Church in Jebel Ali, Dubai, said world events meant it is even more special that Christians living in a Muslim country are able to celebrate Christmas.

“This year of all years, we are particularly aware of how privileged we are as Christians in a Muslim land to be able to celebrate Christmas freely. With everything that is going on in the world and with interfaith attitudes, the fact that Christchurch in Jebel Ali and other churches around the UAE are free to hold midnight mass and our Christmas Day morning service is something we are particularly aware of and grateful for.”

Rev Heaney, who is expecting between 250 to 300 people to attend Christmas services, said Jesus’s message of peace was especially poignant today.

“If the message is needed at any time, it is needed now. We are aware that relationships between faiths, religions and ethnic groups are strained and so we are grateful that here there is particular tolerance as we preach our messages in our services.

“The message is that those who truly listen to God hear a message of peace, rather than one of war. That is needed to be preached more than ever before.”

“It’s a blessing to celebrate Christmas in the UAE,” said Anup Dominic, a member of the Dubai Seventh-day Adventist Church.

“Christmas is family reunion time. For those of us who have family around, it’s great. However, the church is an extended family and tries to organise some year-end celebrations for its members.

“Time is shared with friends and family around lunches and dinners with fun games, exchanging gifts and other novelties.”

Father M C Mathai from St John’s Orthodox Cathedral in Mushrif, Abu Dhabi, said with Christmas Day being so close to the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday it helped make both occasions even more important.

“Prophet Mohammed also gave peace. The meaning of Islam is peace for both this world and the mutual world. I respect the teaching of Prophet Mohammed because Islam gave peace to the world. I am grateful for this, and this is a very special occasion.”

Fr Mathai said the message of Christmas was relevant today.

“In this world, the message of peace is very useful because people are afraid of so many things today. The message of Christmas is relevant even today to share that joy. Christmas is the gift and message of love and peace to the world​.”

Father P Sagayaraj from the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Fujairah, said he was “grateful to the rulers of the UAE who take good care of us and permit us to have our prayers”.

“They do care for our security and protection. All are given permission to have their worship which is appreciated internationally too.”