Christian expat's mosque, priest's book bring them awards from Sheikh Mohammed

Filed on November 27, 2019
UAE Pioneers award, UAE, Christian, expat, priest,  Sheikh Mohammed

Both of them were honoured by Sheikh Mohammed, with the UAE Pioneers award for tolerance-related initiatives.

A Christian businessman's touching gesture of building a mosque for worshippers, and a priest's book on tolerance got them appreciation from the highest quarters on Tuesday.

Both of them were among the several individuals and entities honoured by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, with the UAE Pioneers award for tolerance-related initiatives.

Indian businessman Saji Cheriyan had grabbed headlines when he built a mosque in Fujairah for worshippers in 2018. An orthodox Christian from Kerala, Cheriyan was lauded for his humanitarians values and compassion when he constructed the Mariam Umm Eisa (Mary, the Mother of Jesus) mosque in Al Hail Industrial Area and dedicated it to thousands of Muslim workers, who had to walk a long way to pray.

Bagging the award from Sheikh Mohammed is a moment he will never forget. "This is the best birthday gift I could get," Cheriyan, who is turning 50 this December, told Khaleej Times. "I did not even imagine that a small gesture I did would be recognised by this country. As an Indian who has been living in this country for the last 15 years, this definitely is my proudest moment."
When asked what Sheikh Mohammed told him, he said: "I got goose bumps when Sheikh Mohammed spoke to me. He asked me why as a Christian I built the mosque. He also asked about the Iftar distribution I did for 28,000 people.

"I have no words to thank this country. We all live here, make money and go back to our own country. But I think it is our responsibility to give back to this country. I am inspired by this award to do more for the UAE that has been my home for the last 15 years."

Join the path of tolerance

For Anglican priest Reverend Canon Andrew Thompson, winning the UAE Pioneers award is an invitation for everyone to join the path of tolerance. "The award is a message that there is still hope in this world; hope that we can all live together despite our differences," the senior pastor at St Andrew's Church in Abu Dhabi told Khaleej Times.

The priest said the award on Tuesday came as a 'big surprise'.

Rev Thompson, who has lived in the UAE for more than two decades, has authored a book 'Celebrating Tolerance: Religious Diversity in the United Arab Emirates' which was released in February 2019 to coincide with the UAE's Year of Tolerance.

"The award has reinforced my love for the UAE. It is reminder that in the heart of the Islamic world, this country has opened its doors to people from all backgrounds."

St Andrew's church receives about 15,000 worshippers from more than 80 congregations from across the world. It was built in 1984 on a land gifted by the UAE leaders.

Anjana Sankar

Anjana Sankar is a journalist by profession and a humanist by passion. Her cluttered desk is not indicative of her state of mind.

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