The Year of Tolerance kicks off in just over a week and while aim of the year is quite clearly to further peaceful co-existence, much of the planned activities and initiatives that will be the venue for encouraging tolerance have yet to be announced. Here are eight things we do know will take place in the UAE next year:
1. Pope Francis' visit
2019 will start out strong with Pope Francis visiting Abu Dhabi. The pontiff will touch down in the capital on February 3 and is set to take part in an interfaith forum that the Grand Mufti of Al Azhar, Ahmed El Tayyeb will also attend. The Pope is also due to give a public Mass at Sheikh Zayed Sports City, that more than 100,000 people are expected to attend, on February 5.
It will be the first visit by a pontiff to the Arabian Gulf and it is expected to mark a new era in inter-faith relations between the UAE and the Vatican.
> Pope Francis' itinerary: Pope Francis public mass to be held at Abu Dhabi's Zayed Sports City
2. Construction begins on UAE's first Hindu temple
Construction of the UAE's first Hindu temple will be under way next year ahead of its projected opening in 2020. As many as 3,000 artisans and volunteers are expected on the Abu Dhabi site when construction begins.
The 13.7-acre plot of land at Abu Mureikheh — off Sheikh Zayed Road between Abu Dhabi and Dubai — was granted to the Hindu community in the UAE by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
Tonnes of pink sandstone will be shipped in from northern Rajasthan to make up the outer structure of the temple that will feature ornate carvings.
3. New laws and policies to further tolerance
A few days after the Year of Tolerance was announced, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, formed the Supreme National Committee for Tolerance.
Comprised of ministers, artists, businessmen and charity founders, the committee is tasked with fulfilling the Year of Tolerance's seven pillars. Among these are to develop policy, legislation and executive regulations to guarantee sustained values of tolerance in the UAE. Sheikh Mohammed said these would include a law on multiculturalism.
While the law has yet to be issued, it will likely compliment legislation that already exists in the UAE and that penalises discrimination against anyone on the basis of their religion, gender or creed.
4. Special Olympics World Games
The Special Olympics World Games will be held in Abu Dhabi in March. It will be the first time the games are held in the Middle East and North Africa region and will be another occasion to show that tolerance is about accepting and embracing differences.
Some 7,500 athletes will take part in the competition, along with some 20,000 volunteers and an estimated 500,000 spectators.
5. Federal National Council elections where women must occupy 50 per cent of seats
This month, President Sheikh Khalifa decreed that women must make up 50 per cent of the FNC after the elections in 2019.
Currently, women members make up just 20 per cent of the 40 available seats.
Sheikh Khalifa's directive showed that the Year of Tolerance will not only be about embracing equality among religions and nationalities but also between genders.
6. Reverend Andy Thompson’s latest book on the religious communities in the UAE comes out
A book written by the chaplain at St Andrew's Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi will be released next year.
Celebrating Tolerance: Religious diversity in the UAE by Rev Andy Thompson, his second book about religion in the region, will be published with a foreword by Sheikh Nahyan.
Rev Thompson's first title Jesus of Arabia was published in 2014 in English and in December in Arabic. Sheikh Nahyan also wrote the introduction to the original book where he expressed hope its publication can promote interfaith dialogue.
7. Community events to promote cultural exchange
Local branches of the Supreme National Committee for Tolerance have been tasked with working with community centres in each emirate to host events and activities that promote cultural exchange.
While some initiatives will be specific to each emirate, others will be nation-wide and will build on events such as UAE-China Week and Emirati-French Cultural Dialogue. During these events, activities are held in each country with the intention of highlighting local heritage and encouraging cultural intermingling.
8. Education programmes at schools and universities
Tolerance is learnt from a young age and one of the goals for next year is to introduce programmes to schools and universities to encourage pupils and students to embrace diversity.
Not much has been revealed about the programmes as yet but more is sure to be announced over the coming months. These will likely build on programmes such as the Champions of Tolerance — where people all ages and from different fields take part in workshops to redefine tolerance through skills including perspective, compassion, dialogue, conflict resolution, resilience and teamwork. Graduates of the Champions of Tolerance programme must spread the UAE methodology of Tolerance founded by Sheikh Zayed, according to Sheikh Nahyan.