ABU DHABI // A centre for Indian Islamic studies, 29 years in the making, was officially opened yesterday by the Indian president Pratibha Patil.
The president attended the ribbon cutting ceremony of the Abu Dhabi Indian Islamic Centre as part of her four-day state visit.
The centre aims to teach young Indian pupils about Islam and serve as a meeting place for Abu Dhabi's Indian Muslim community.
It took the community almost three decades to raise the funds needed to build the centre, and the president said it now stood as testament to the historic link between the UAE and India.
The centre was built on land donated to the Indian community by Sheikh Zayed in 1979.
Its foundation stone was laid by the late Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi in 1981, before her assassination in 1984.
President Patil, a close friend to Mrs Ghandi, yesterday described the centre as having an "illustrious history".
"The Indian Islamic Centre is a tribute to the collective efforts of community leaders," she said.
"It is, indeed, a reflection of the strength of character of the Indian diaspora, in nurturing its links with the mother country, while successfully adapting to the local conditions in the host countries."
Earlier yesterday, the president was greeted by 1,000 pupils from the Abu Dhabi Indian School as well as 150 pupils from other Indian schools around the country.
The Abu Dhabi Indian School was founded by Mohammed Hamid Ansari 35 years ago, during his tenure as India's ambassador to the UAE. Today, Mr Ansari is the vice president of India.
The pupils had prepared a series of Indian classical dances for the president including Mohiniattam, Kuchipudi, Bharatnatyam and Kathak.
They also donned red, black, green and white gowns - representative of the UAE flag - to perform a traditional Emirati dance for her.
The president described the performances as "vibrant, talented, thrilling and beautiful".
In her address to the pupils, the president quoted Mahatma Gandhi's teachings, and said: "The quest for knowledge is unending. As we cope with the challenges of a changing age, this becomes more important."
Neilsen Fernandes, 15, a grade 10 pupil, and his friend Shyam Dukadia, 14, said they paid special attention to the president's words.
"We expect teachers to quiz us about her speech," said Neilsen. "Most likely in the political science class."