A UAE-based Christian priest's book showing how Jesus had more in common with Arabian Islamic culture rather than western is to be published into Arabic.
Jesus of Arabia was penned by Rev Andy Thompson, the chaplain at St Andrew's Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi, and it also examines the bridges between Islam and Christianity.
The book was first published in English in 2014 and now the Arabic version will launch at St Andrew's on Tuesday. It is rare that a book written by a Christian resident about Jesus receives such a treatment and Rev Thompson says the event is a pre-Christmas celebration of Jesus for both Muslims and Christians.
“A lot of conversations between Muslims and Christians get bogged down in dogma and it is not really helpful,” said Mr Thompson. “I want to promote education between our two communities which is different from proselytising.
"Education helps us to know one another – meeting with respect and mutual acceptance and we can only do that by recognising our shared heritage in Jesus,” he said.
The Arabic version took about a year to produce, spans 200 pages and was translated by a four-person Christian and Muslim Arab team from publishers Motivate over a two to three-month period. The team carefully translated the text to maintain the respectful tone of the English version.
“Getting the Arabic flavour for that was important so we need both Christian and Muslim Arab translators to make it work. There was an ongoing dialogue between them,” said Mr Thompson.
Over the centuries, Jesus has been recreated in a western image.
In the book, Mr Thompson shows how Christ was essentially a child of the Middle East. The importance of family and the responsibility carried by the eldest son are familiar in Arab culture and mirror the life of Christ.
During his crucifixion, "he still discharged his duty as the first born son to tell someone to look after his mother," he said.
Other customs and parables of Christ’s time 2,000 years ago will be instantly more recognisable to Arabs than westerners. For example, sitting on the right hand of someone important is still a huge honour today in the Gulf, something Jesus spoke about.
“We see this in the majlis where the most important person sits on the right hand side. All these cultural elements we are familiar with in the Bible are still being lived today in the emirates," the reverend said.
Almost 200 nationalities live in the UAE but very often people live in their own bubbles, rarely interacting with each other. This is another facet of life which Mr Thompson is hoping to correct.
“We meet in the market place but rarely in the religious place. It is about creating the positive encounters between religions which are so needed. The other day I was at New York University Abu Dhabi and met some Emiratis who said to me they never met a Christian priest before. That’s what this book is about. Helping each other to know one another.”
St Andrews sits in a cluster of churches in Abu Dhabi’s Mushrif area. Catholic, Anglican, Greek Orthodox and many more places of worship exist peacefully in a Muslim country, which Rev Thompson says is a testament to the tolerant atmosphere.
Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Tolerance, wrote the introduction to the original book where he expressed hope its publication can promote interfaith dialogue.
"Jesus of Arabia is part of that message," said Mr Thompson.
The book launch takes place on Tuesday at 6pm. It is open to the public and will feature talks by Islamic and Christian scholars. People can also pick up a copy of the book there. Jesus of Arabia is on sale online through Motivate's Books of Arabia portal and in most mall bookshops for about Dh135.
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Abu Dhabi minister hopes to foster interfaith dialogue with ‘Jesus of Arabia’