Dozens of UAE residents have been honoured at an annual awards ceremony for their efforts to promote peace and tolerance.
More than 3,000 people were nominated for the prestigious UAE Pioneers Award, with the winners announced in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.
The ceremony, attended by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, was held at the end of the UAE Government Annual Meeting in the capital.
The gathering drew hundreds of local and federal officials to discuss new ideas aimed at driving forward the country’s social and economic agenda.
The Pioneers Awards, regarded as among the Emirates’ most distinguished accolades, were presented to people and groups judged to have led the way in highlighting a spirit of tolerance.
“Today, we honoured teams and heroes at the end of the Year of Tolerance in the UAE,” Sheikh Mohammed tweeted.
Among the high-profile winners of the award was Saji Cheriyan, a Christian from India who built and paid for a Dh1.3 million mosque in Fujairah last year.
Mr Cheriyan wanted hundreds of Muslim workers staying in an accommodation he owned to have the opportunity to pray.
He was joined by the Rev Canon Andrew Thompson, who was also presented with the award.
The Anglican clergyman, who lives and works in Abu Dhabi, in February released a book called Celebrating Tolerance: Religious Diversity in the United Arab Emirates.
"We know there is some intolerance that comes out of the Middle East," Mr Thompson told The National this year.
"But I'd like to challenge that stereotype, being a Christian leader in the Middle East, and say that Christians are not persecuted in the UAE. In fact, quite the opposite."
Other winners of the award included Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, for her help in highlighting internationally the UAE’s model for more tolerant, open societies.
The UAE ambassador to Lebanon, Hamad Al Shamsi, was honoured for spreading the notion of tolerance to Lebanese society.
There were also posthumous honours for individuals who dedicated their lives to helping others.
Abdul Salam Rafi, who established the first centre dedicated to the treatment of diabetes and hormone imbalance in the UAE, was recognised for his work.
"Honouring role models who contributed to promoting tolerance reflects the importance of this value to the UAE leadership and Emirati people, especially with this unprecedented level of engagement from individuals and entities in the Year of Tolerance,” said Sultan Fahad, general co-ordinator of the UAE Pioneers Initiative.
Speaking at the UAE Government Annual Meeting, Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, acknowledged the huge achievements the country had made in the past year.
They included welcoming Pope Francis to Abu Dhabi, and the pontiff signing the Human Fraternity Document with the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb.
“This document crowned the efforts that extended over 30 years to ultimately establish the record of tolerance in the land of the UAE," Dr Gargash said.
The minister also reflected on a year in which Hazza Al Mansouri was sent to space and the Emirati passport was named as one of the most powerful in the world in terms of visa-free movement.
"This is one of the greatest achievements this year,” Dr Gargash said of the space mission. “It asserts the approach of the UAE to adopt science and entrepreneurship to shape a better future.
"To complement the successes achieved throughout 2019, we aspire to further progress during 2020 and furnish solid preparations for hosting Expo 2020, the largest economic event in the world, organised pursuant to the directions of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid."