The UAE is a global hub, hosting expats from over 200 nationalities. People from different ethnic and religious backgrounds call the country their home, which makes it a driving force for a country striving to become a true role model for acceptance and coexistence.
Emirati officials have left no stone unturned to ensure that this goal is met. They've launched several projects in the past to promote tolerance across the nation, and the most recent one was unveiled by the UAE's Higher Committee of Human Fraternity during its second official meeting in New York on Friday — coinciding with the UN General Assembly.
The project is set to be based in Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Island and will feature a mosque, church, and synagogue all in one location. Dubbed "The Abrahamic Family House," the project is currently in its first step of implementation, with construction plans scheduled for next year and the opening for 2022, according to The National.
The project's name is derived from the term "Abrahamic faith," which refers to the three monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — faiths that claim prophet Abraham as their "common forefather."
Once completed, the center will become the first of its kind in the world as an emblem of interfaith dialogue. It's also set to turn into "a physical manifestation" of the Document on Human Fraternity signed by Pope Francis and Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, during the pontiff's visit to Abu Dhabi last February.
The document signed by the religious leaders "called for the reconciliation of people of all faiths and goodwill in service of universal peace."
A look at the Gulf region's first interfaith landmark
The Abrahamic Family House is designed by British architect Sir David Adjaye, whose "largest project to date is the $540 million (Dh1.98 billion) Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in Washington in 2016."
Speaking to The National, Adjaye spoke of the project's unique design, explaining that it will house three main buildings that will each lead to a central garden. Beneath the garden, the location will feature a museum and a center of education. The 53-year-old said his company was selected to oversee the entire project after a competitive bidding process.
"I am deeply humbled to be involved. It's a once in a generation moment. The design is very contemporary but it is rooted in the histories of all three faiths," he told the local English-language daily.
The center's mosque will be orientated toward the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the church's altar will "point east towards the sun," and the synagogue's podium and Torah "will face Jerusalem."
The project's announcement was followed by another historic coexistence feat in the UAE
The unique project's unveiling came two days before the UAE officially granted new legal status to 17 churches and temples in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. Previously, these places of worship operated informally in the country.
The nation's Department of Community Development said the "move will ensure religious leaders have a clear channel of communication, which they can use to ask for support or obtain permission to host special events."
The UAE has long been serious about promoting coexistence and tolerance
In 2015, an anti-discrimination law was passed in the UAE in an effort to prevent any behavior that could potentially spread discrimination within the community. Under the law, any act that triggers religious hatred "through any form of expression, which covers speech and the written word, books, pamphlets or online media" is prohibited.
The UAE is also considered the first country to have a minister of tolerance, a day (Nov. 16) to mark "International Day for Tolerance," and a year dedicated to it. In December 2018, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed declared 2019 as the Year of Tolerance.
Earlier this year, the first Christian site to ever be discovered in the UAE was opened to the public. There are 40 churches in the country (including those in Abu Dhabi) — up from 25 in 2005. There are two Hindu temples in Dubai - to accommodate the roughly 3.3 million Indians in the country - and one Sikh temple.