July 19, 2018

Tolerance: a fundamental part of the United Arab Emirates

By H.E. Sheikha Lubna Bint Khalid Al Qasimi, Minister of State for Tolerance, United Arab Emirates.

In today’s world, one of the greatest challenges that we face is the rise in various forms of intolerance. Whether it is differences in religious belief, in cultural and historical traditions or in colour or origin, conflicts are created and stimulated by those who seek to use them as reasons to divide us.

In sharp contrast to that, we in the United Arab Emirates firmly believe that such differences should be welcomed and celebrated. They offer much from which we can all learn as we seek to build a modern, diverse and forward-looking society.

Last year, I was appointed as the UAE’s first Minister of State for Tolerance, with a mandate to reinforce and to build upon the spirit of tolerance that has always been a fundamental part of our society, deeply rooted in our history.

The citizens of the UAE are overwhelmingly Muslim by faith, embracing a religion that preaches tolerance and respect for other faiths, creating a land where all people may live in coexistence, peace and security. Though we are a Muslim-majority country, we have over 40 churches, catering to hundreds of thousands of believers of many different Christian denominations, along with Sikh and Hindu places of worship. We take pride in that diversity, which encompasses the 200 or so nationalities that live in our country, and also in the evidence of our own ancient Christian heritage 1,400 years ago.

One of our most important historic sites is a monastery of the Church of the East, founded in around 600 AD, before the revelation of Islam, and a centre of the faith for over 100 years before it was eventually abandoned. That monastery is evidence that the UAE has always accepted other beliefs. Our country has always been what I term “an incubator of civilisations.”

Support for the principles of tolerance and diversity – religious, cultural and ethnic – are enshrined in our Constitution. Discrimination on the grounds of faith, race and ethnic origin, as well as speech intended to promote such discrimination, is proscribed under the terms of our legislation.

My role as Minister of State for Tolerance, though, is not simply confined to ensuring that the Constitution and legislation are respected, important though they are. Of equal, if not greater, significance is the role of promoting the underlying values that they represent, through discussion, dialogue, education and debate. In pursuit of that goal, my Ministry reaches out to the varied religious, community and cultural groups, to our schools and voluntary organisations and to UAE society at large.

It is not always an easy task. In the region in which we live, there are siren voices which seek to promote division and hatred. While we are fortunate that there are very few in the Emirates who listen to them, we have seen only too vividly the death and devastation that such voices can bring about.

We must always be on our guard to ensure that such poisonous views never gain a hold in our society.

Over 20 years ago, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founder-President of the UAE, noted:

“In these times, we see around us violent men who claim to talk on behalf of Islam…. Regrettably, these people have nothing whatsoever that connects them to Islam. They are apostates and criminals. We see them slaughtering children and the innocent. They kill people, spill their blood and destroy their property, and then claim to be Muslims.”

Sheikh Zayed’s words underpin our approach today. In a world where intolerance derived from a perversion of religion threatens all, the United Arab Emirates will continue to promote our belief in tolerance, welcoming diversity of beliefs, of faiths and of cultures, as the best, indeed the only, hope for us all in the years that lie ahead.

In our UAE capital of Abu Dhabi, one of our major mosques has recently been re-named the Mariam Umm Eisa mosque – or the Mary, Mother of Jesus Mosque. It is immediately adjacent to the Catholic Cathedral, the Anglican Church and the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, where, on Fridays, the UAE’s day of rest, thousands of people, Emirati citizens and expatriates, intermingle in harmony as they go to perform their prayers.

That is the kind of society we have inherited and the kind of society we wish to cherish and preserve.

It is for me an honour that the Government which I serve has entrusted me with the task of contributing to the pursuing of that goal.

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