From turban-wearing Sikhs to sari-clad Keralites, a mini-India converged at the annual iftar of the Indian Social and Cultural Centre in Abu Dhabi last week.
India’s ambassador to the UAE, Navdeep Singh Suri, said of the mood of the multi-faith and multilingual evening that “Indians have it in their DNA to celebrate and respect the faith and culture of one another”.
A crowd gathered around the iftar table, waiting patiently for the evening prayer call to break the fast.
“I grew up in a culture where we celebrate every festival, from [the Hindu] Diwali and Navaratri to [the Muslim] Eid and [Christian] Christmas. As a young boy, I looked forward to all these festivals with great excitement. This is part of our tradition,” he said.
“The presence of large numbers of both fasting and non-fasting people in the audience highlights not only the spirit of Ramadan, but also the spirit of India.”
The ongoing celebrations surrounding the Year of Tolerance in the UAE provided a perfect backdrop for the evening’s deliberations. “Nobody in the world epitomises the value of tolerance better than Indians do,” Mr Suri said.
“It comes very naturally to them. India is a land that has hosted followers of every religion in the world besides giving birth to four major religions.”
Mr Suri believes Indians have an inherently pluralistic worldview and could contribute greatly to the UAE's march towards becoming a modern nation that celebrates diversity.
"For me personally, the visit of the Pope to the UAE was of great significance. The signing of the Human Fraternity Document by the Pope and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar is also a powerful example to the world."
The Indian ambassador also hailed the UAE's leadership for facilitating the construction of the first Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi.
“The country’s commitment to the values of tolerance and harmony is manifested in the speedy construction of the Hindu temple,” he said.
Mr D Natarajan, president of the Indian Social and Cultural Centre, emphasised the need to follow the values of fraternity, equality and tolerance, which, according to him, are central to the Islamic faith.
“The five pillars of Islam – Shahada, salah, fasting, zakat and Hajj – are prescribed by God to inculcate a strong sense of equality and brotherhood among Muslims. There is no special preference given during the obligatory prayer to anyone based on his social or economic status. Anyone who comes late, even if he is the ruler of the country, will have to stand in the last row in the mosque,” he said.
Mr Suri also inaugurated the sixth Quran recitation competition, which will conclude with a prize distribution ceremony on May 24.