Worshippers rejoice over new church and mosque in Abu Dhabi

The new places of worship are being constructed in celebration of inter-faith relations in the UAE

Worshippers have spoken of their joy over plans to construct a new church and mosque in Abu Dhabi - saying it demonstrates how the Muslim and Christian faiths can stand together in "harmony and unity".

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, said the new places of worship would serve as "beacons" for tolerance in the country.

Sheikh Mohamed and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, signed the foundation stone for the Church of Saint Francis and Mosque of Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb during the historic visit to the country of Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb.

Pope Francis and the Grand Imam called for people of all faiths to unite to combat terrorism and injustice, bring about equality for all, and help to usher in world peace during their visit.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, announcing the news, said the church and mosque “will serve as beacons to uphold the values ​​of tolerance, moral integrity and human fraternity in the UAE.”

They are sentiments that are echoed by people across the country.

Milind Pandit, 40, from India, said the project is a "very big achievement" for the UAE.

“It is a pure testimony of the tolerance this country provides,” he said.

While he has previously experienced a papal visit when Pope John Paul visited India in 1986, he said Pope Francis' tour of the UAE is of greater significance.

“This is a Muslim country, so it is a very big achievement having this church and mosque being built together, it is not something you hear very often.

“It is a sign of how people live together in harmony and unity.”

David Achere, 29, a taxi driver from Cameroon, is proud to see two faiths brought together in one city.

“I have never seen that in any place other than the UAE: a church and a mosque next to each other, they are always so far apart.”

He believes it is a development that would not be possible in his own homeland.

“In my country, it wouldn’t work to put the two next to each other.”

He said that he has been working in the UAE for just over a year and has come to understand that followers of different faiths share many values.

Mr Achere feels the construction of a new church and mosque in Abu Dhabi is symbolic of the blossoming friendship between the Muslim faith and Christianity in the UAE and will bring "peace and love to the community".

Crispn Thomas said that a mosque taking pride of place near to a Church is not an unusual sight in the UAE, itself a sign of the nation's efforts to provide a warm welcome to people from all backgrounds.

“Wise people build bridges and this is yet another bridge. Saint Francis of Assisi is Saint associated with tolerance, so it is symbolic for the Church to be named after him,” he said.

The 34-year-old, whose family is from Kerala, India was himself born and raised in the UAE.

“I was born in Sharjah and there was always a church next to a mosque. We would go to church and could hear the mosque’s call for prayers in the background. Both religions, Islam and Christianity are close to each other. There are many links between the two and they both promote tolerance.”

Mr Thomas took his 65-year-old mother, Jolly Thomas, to the Mass at Zayed Sports City Stadium on Tuesday.

“It was her lifelong dream of hers to go to a Papal Mass and for us to finally to do that and in the UAE is a dream come true.”

Mr Thomas' mother is delighted that another church will be opening in the capital.

“Tuesday was the happiest day of my life and to have a church in Saint Francis’s name is wonderful,” she said.