UAE is vocal about tolerance because religion has been hijacked: Al Otaiba
Abu Dhabi - The UAE Ambassador to the US says the country is trying to present to the rest of the world that religion has absolutely nothing to do with extremism or politics.
The UAE has been very vocal about the value of tolerance during the past couple of years because of the realisation that "religion has been hijacked and politicised", a top Emirati diplomat has said.
"We have always been that way (promoting tolerance and related values) but we have never been as vocal as we have been in the last couple of years," said Yousef Al Otaiba, UAE Ambassador to the US.
He was speaking in a webinar hosted by the Special Olympics on Monday to discuss the global expansion of Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools (UCS) with the support of $25 million gift from His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
"Hosting the Pope, bringing the Special Olympics, building an Abrahamic House... These all because we feel that religion has been hijacked and politicised; dominated by extremism and radicalism and basically been misinterpreted by so many people around the world," the envoy explained.
"I think our religion, at least the way I understand my own religion, was never about politics... was never about extremism... was never about violence. I think what we are trying to do here is to take the narrative back and recapture what our religion means, both to us and to the rest of the world," he added.
"So many people now look at us and look at our part of the world and think this entire region is violent and the religion here is radical, which is not. We are trying to present to the rest of the world that religion has absolutely nothing to do with extremism or politics. It has to do with faith and respect," the ambassador pointed out.
"Different people practise religion in different ways, but I think it is important to send that message to the rest of the world from the Middle East," he asserted.
The UAE has found that the Special Olympics also share certain values the country upholds, he noted.
"We have learned that the Special Olympics and their community share the values that we have in the UAE. These are things we grew up with. These are things we inherited... it is in our DNA. And we finally found an organisation that espouses those exact values," Al Otaiba explained.
$25m support to Special Olympics
The UAE's $25 million gift to the Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools represents the country's values of inclusion, respect, acceptance and tolerance, said Al Otaiba.
Talking about the UAE hosting the Special Olympics World Games in 2019 in Abu Dhabi, the ambassador said it was an unconventional step.
The UAE's support to the Special Olympics UCS came from the thoughts about taking forward that legacy of the World Games and support the education and healthcare of athletes in their normal life.
"You quickly forget, well, what about when they are not competing? And I think this is where we need to do a lot more work, because that's not where the glitz and glamour comes in," Al Otaiba said.
The global expansion of the UCS announced by Special Olympics on Monday is one of the largest initiatives for inclusion in education for young people with and without intellectual disabilities, through the support of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Building on over a decade of success of UCS in the US and growing impact in more than 50 other countries, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed has committed $25 million in order to bring this initiative to six countries - Argentina, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Romania and Rwanda. -Wam