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UAE is an oasis of religious tolerance

By Hani M. Bathish / 19 October 2004

DUBAI — While for many living in the UAE religious freedom is a well-recognised fact, for many in the West perceptions of the troubled Middle East region may lead them to lump all regional states into one category and thus fail to appreciate or recognise the uniqueness of the UAE as an oasis of tolerance and understanding.

The International Religious Freedom Report for 2004 on the UAE, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour, of the US State Department, reported a generally amicable relationship among religious groups in society, which contributes to religious freedom.

It stresses that UAE government policy continues to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

In late 2001, the Ministry of Planning inquired about religious affiliation in its first federal census.

According to a ministry report compiled in 2003, 76 per cent of the total population is Muslim, 9 per cent is Christian and 15 per cent were classified as “other”.

The report said that foreign missionaries operate in the country. They have been performing humanitarian missionary work even before 1971.

In 1960, Christian missionaries opened a maternity hospital in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi; the hospital continues to operate.

Missionaries also operate a maternity hospital in the emirate of Fujairah. An International Bible Society representative in Al Ain distributes Bibles and other religious material to Christian religious groups throughout the country, the report said.

There are 24 Christian churches in the country built on land donated by the ruling families of the emirates in which they are located. There are also two Sikh temples and one Hindu temple operating in the country, and another Sikh temple reportedly being built in Dubai.

Four emirates are home to parochial, Christian, primary and secondary schools. The emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai have donated land for Christian cemeteries. Abu Dhabi has also donated land for a Baha’i cemetery. There are two operating cremation facilities and associated cemeteries for the Hindu community — one in Dubai and one in Sharjah.

Resha is an Indian national and practising Hindu in the UAE. She feels that her community is free to practise their rituals of worship without any hindrance.

“I believe we are quite free to practise our rituals to an extent. There are no restrictions. The Hindu temple in Dubai is the only one in the UAE and the region and we would like to see bigger and better facilities for our worship naturally,” Resha said.

Professor Dinah Lazor, a Protestant Christian who has been living in the UAE for four years, said: “We have the freedom to worship. In fact, it has been a moving religious experience for me to have the opportunity to worship with so many different nationalities. I am a Methodist but since there is no Methodist Church in the country, I attend a Baptist service as well as a Catholic and Anglican service.

“There is information publicly available on churches in the country, there are services available on Sunday evenings and Friday mornings. I did have some difficulty locating the churches at first. The Catholic and Anglican services in Dubai Friday morning are attended by between 12,000 and 13,000 worshippers.”

 

 
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