The St. George Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Simhasana Cathedral in Al Ain, became one of the first churches in the UAE to host Islamic Friday prayers last week. 

According to Gulf News, Maghrib prayers were held at the church on June 9, following an iftar get-together that its members hosted for over 200 Muslim road workers who live near the premises. 

All members helped in organizing the event, preparing food and arranging prayer carpets in the building. 

Speaking to Gulf News, Bobi Skariya, the convener of the iftar committee at the church explained that all those invited expressed their gratitude and appreciation for the kind gesture. 

An inspiring initiative

Prior to the event, a few church members had concerns and worried about whether Muslims would be hesitant to offer prayers inside. 

However, Skariya said that it was heartening and delightful to see "that none of our Muslim brothers had such concerns at all." 

"We all were delighted that our brothers upheld the true spirit of Islam," he said, adding that this "was the first time, at least in the UAE, that a church opened its doors for Muslim prayers."

After the event, several Emirati officials who had heard of it, contacted church members expressing their appreciation.  

“When they said that we upheld the UAE’s true values of religious and social harmony, we felt proud,” Skariya said. 

He also explained that many others were inspired by the event and offered to support similar initiatives in the future. 

Religious tolerance in the UAE

The cabinet of the United Arab Emirates approved a national tolerance program in June of 2016, reaffirming respect for others as a key value of the nation. 

According to the UAE's Minister of State Tolerance, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the program "aims to fight ignorance and extremism based on the teachings of Islam, the constitution, the legacy of the UAE's founder Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, international conventions and the nation's ethics." 

At the time of its launch, Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai spoke of the importance of tolerance in the nation, saying that it's a key value of its ancestors and founding fathers.