Religious tolerance in UAE hailed by US

The 2012 International Religious Freedom Report by the US state department praised UAE efforts to allow non-Muslim religious groups to practice in the country.

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Religious tolerance in the UAE has been hailed by the US, with a report highlighting diversity and the efforts to welcome all faiths.

The 2012 International Religious Freedom Report by the US state department said religions practiced freely and the Government had worked hard to prevent extremism and warn people about its dangers.

"The Government followed a policy of tolerance towards non-Muslim religious groups," the report states. "The constitution stipulates that all citizens are equal before the law, without discrimination between citizens on grounds of religious belief."

The report also notes the Rulers donated land for houses of worship for non-Muslim faiths.

Last year, US Embassy officers met with the General Islamic Authority and Ali Al Hashimi, an adviser for judiciary and religious affairs at the Ministry of Presidential Affairs, to encourage "continuing efforts to counter violent extremism while maintaining openness to religious diversity".

An international centre for countering violent extremism, Hedayah [Guidance], was also launched last year in Abu Dhabi.

The report noted that the UAE government encouraged citizens to avoid tendencies and ideologies that it considered to be extremist, while religious authorities coordinated public awareness campaigns about the dangers of violent extremism.

Regarding various Muslim groups, the report found they could own houses of worship by requesting a land grant and permission from an emirate's Ruler to build on.

After a grant was given no rent fees were charged. The emirate of Sharjah also waived utility bills for religious buildings.

"The Ruling families donated land to Muslim minority groups, including the Ismaili Centre in Dubai, which serves as a regional Ismaili house of worship for the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and for the Dawoodi Bohra mosques in Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman," the report states.

More than 35 Christian churches have been built in the country on land donated by ruling families.

An increase in the number of land grants for building non-Muslim religious facilities was noted during the year.

Work began on the first Armenian church in May.

"Shopping centres were festive during Christian holidays, and Christian holiday foods, decorations, posters and books were widely available," the report states. "Christmas trees and elaborate decorations were prominent features at major malls and hotels. The news media regularly printed reports of religious holiday celebrations, including church services and Hindu festivals."

Land was also donated for Christian and Baha'i cemeteries in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Although the law bans churches from erecting bell towers or displaying crosses outside their premises, the report said the Government did not always enforce this law, and some churches displayed crosses on their buildings.

A source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the UAE was working on improving its human-rights record, according to the state news agency Wam, and on contributing to and positively interacting with the relevant international practices.