Practising their faith in peace

Practising their faith in peace.

Parishioners listen to a choir during a mass at St. Michael's Catholic Church in Sharjah. Sarah Dea/The National
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AJMAN // For Roman Catholic in the UAE, this time of year is a chance to celebrate the freedom and understanding granted them by the country’s rulers that allows them to practise their faith in peace.

For many, the UAE is an example of how a country can be officially, and predominately, Islamic but open to so many people of other religions.

“I find it a great thing to have the UAE as an example of how an Islamic country can be really Islamic and at the same time open to the world, tolerant, understanding, having and allowing non-Muslims to live normally on their land,” said Wissam Keyrouz, who is French Lebanese.

“Let us not forget that UAE nationals are 100 per cent Muslims, and for the community that is [totally] belonging to one religion, unlike Lebanon, I find it very respectful that they give us a freedom to practise our faith freely.”

The 35-year-old said because of this, the UAE was seen as a land of opportunity by many. Mr Keyrouz is also glad to see the traditional and family side of Christmas being celebrated in a Muslim country, with malls decorated with Christmas trees and lights, even though Christmas here is markedly different from Lebanon, especially the weather.

“Christmas and winter are very much associated,” he said. “Definitely, it makes a lot of people who come from this tradition, whether they are believers or not, feel the connection within this day and what is even more satisfying is to see that Christmas is something regarded by non-Christians as a season of joyful things, a happy moment, a time to be good and to connect to everybody.”

Rola Habr, a Lebanese researcher at the Office of Development and Alumni Affairs at the American University of Sharjah, said: “We were born and raised here and we feel influenced by the people who are around us and how they practise their own religion. Because we have not been raised in a Christian country, this makes us think, compare and contrast both religions.”

The 32-year-old studied in the UAE and took Islamic education classes at school, which were not compulsory because she is Christian, but she decided to attend in grades 11 and 12 because it was a chance to learn about the religion of her adopted home. She said she discovered many similarities between Islam and Christianity. “For me, both religions are close to each other.”

Priest Rev Wissam Al Massa’deh has been attending to the congregation at St Michael’s Roman Catholic Church in the Yarmook area of Sharjah for just three months, but was quickly impressed with the diversity of the population and people’s acceptance of different faiths.

“I came to the UAE for two reasons. Firstly, because there was only one priest in the church, and secondly, because it is a unique country. It differs from other countries and has diversity in terms of religions and nationalities.”

The Jordanian priest said he likes how all Christians from different nationalities come to pray in one church.

“This country gives space for each person to express their faiths freely and without pressures, and no one disturbs the other.”