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17 churches, one Hindu temple granted UAE licences

UAE licences, Hindu temple

Abu Dhabi - Establishing places of worship reflects the country's respect for diversity.


Ismail Sebugwaawo

Published: Sun 22 Sep 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Mon 23 Sep 2019, 12:59 AM

Non-Muslim places of worship in Abu Dhabi, including decades-old churches, were officially given legal recognition on Sunday.
 Seventeen churches and one Hindu temple, along with five other places of worship in Abu Dhabi, were granted licences in a historic ceremony held at Emirates Palace.
Under the banner 'A Call for Harmony', the Department of Community Development in Abu Dhabi (DCD) decided to bring all the religious institutions under one licence umbrella so that the authority could support them in their operations.
"For decades, our great leaders have welcomed people from various religions, making the UAE a place for all. Abu Dhabi is now a leading model for tolerance and co-existence," Dr Mugheer Al Khaili, chairman of the DCD, said during the special event.
"Our wise leadership - under the directives of the President, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan - is keen to provide all means of dignified living for the members of community and secure their needs and rights , so as to enhance their role in advancing development."
With this new initiative, the places of worship will now be working and operating under one umbrella.
He said that unlike before, the religious bodies can now rely on one official government channel whenever they need advice or support.
The DCD has developed legal frameworks, policies and procedures to ensure that people of all religions would be able to practise their faith, in accordance with UAE laws and without affecting the country's customs and traditions, officials said.
Long history of tolerance
Establishing places of worship has long been welcomed in the country, and no less than the UAE's Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, had championed the establishment of a cohesive society.  "Sheikh Zayed paid attention to all segments of society. This has turned Abu Dhabi into a unique model in safeguarding human rights," Al Khaili said.
Most worship sites in the Capital were built on land gifted by the emirate's rulers, and they had been operating with informal approval from local authorities.
St Joseph's Cathedral, for example, is the emirate's oldest church dating back to 1965. And many of the religious institutions have existed for over 40 years.
There are also other churches like St. Andrew's Church, St. George Orthodox Church, Coptic Orthodox Church, and Evangelical Community Church.
Sultan Al Mutawa, executive director of the DCD community engagement and sports sector, said: "Abu Dhabi embraces a community of diverse cultures and nationalities, united by a spirit of love, giving and service towards the nation."
'This means we have been fully embraced'
Bringing a diverse society together reinforces Abu Dhabi's commitment to maintaining harmony, religious leaders said as they hailed the legal recognition they officially received in a ceremony on Sunday.
"Today marks the day when we have the hospitality of the UAE. Granting licences to all worship places means that we have been fully embraced," said Revd Canon Andrew Thompson MBE, senior Anglican chaplain at St. Andrew's Church in Abu Dhabi.
"We now have a place to go to when we need official documents to apply for visas, open up bank accounts and other things. Previously, we operated on tolerance and good will, but now we have something legal," he added.
Thompson said their church offers services in 15 languages to around 15,000 worshippers every Friday.
Pastor Joseph Faragalla, head of Evangelical Church in Al Ain, said having legal status will promote their operations and strengthen their relationships with the government.
"Having official legal status in the country will help us run the churches smoothly, since there will now be a government body that can help us with our concerns and needs," Faragalla said.
Father Benny Mathew, vicar of St. George Orthodox Cathedral, added: "This shows that the UAE leaders care for religious minorities as part of their culture of tolerance."
He said that the church, which is located in Mushrif area, was established in 1968 on the land granted to them by UAE's founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
Bishop Dr Abraham Mar Paulos of Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar said the move shall ultimately "encourage other nations in the region to do the same".
"Abu Dhabi has taken the lead in promoting religious tolerance, and we applaud the government's efforts to promote peace and unity among all people."
Historic places of spirituality
1-St. Joseph's Cathedral
Inaugurated in February 1965, St. Joseph's is the oldest church in Abu Dhabi. It is located near the intersection of Airport Road (Street 2) and 17th Street. The parish caters to over 100,000 Catholic expatriates. Masses are celebrated in several different languages and the church is generally seen packed to full capacity.
2-St. Andrew's Church
For the last five decades, this church complex located in Mushrif has been the spiritual home for thousands of Christians in the Capital. St. Andrew's Church was first established in 1968 to mainly cater to the British expats, who were then working for oil companies in Abu Dhabi. It moved to the new location in Mushrif in 1980.
3-First Hindu temple
The foundation stone of the UAE's first traditional Hindu temple was laid in a shilanyas ceremony in Abu Dhabi in April this year. It is set to rise on 55,000 square metres of land near Al Rahba off the Dubai-Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed Highway. Hand-carved from pink sandstone by craftsmen in India, the shrine is expected to be ready by 2020.
4-St. George Orthodox Church
In 1968, the orthodox congregation moved into the cathedral and, two years later, it had become a parish. In 1983, the current St. George Orthodox Cathedral was consecrated. The cathedral is situated close to the Abu Dhabi British School, near the Evangelical Community Church. It offers services to over 1,200 expat families.

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