Land of Unity and Co-Existence

The Abrahamic Family House - consisting of mosque, synagogue and church - is set to open in 2022. The cultural landmark epitomises human coexistence and preserves the unique character of each faith

By Rhonita Patnaik

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Published: Thu 18 Nov 2021, 12:20 PM

Last updated: Thu 18 Nov 2021, 12:22 PM

In June this year, the upcoming Abrahamic Family House, a multi-faith complex at the Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, revealed the names of the mosque, synagoue and church.

The names of the houses of worship have been announced as the Imam Al-Tayeb Mosque, Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue and St. Francis Church, respectively. The complex, which also includes a cultural centre, will welcome visitors to worship, learn and engage in dialogue.

As the UAE's first synagogue, it bears an emotional and historical significance for Jews in the country.

The name - Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue

Explaining the significance of the name 'Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue', Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates – Shaarei Mizrah, said: "Moses Maimonides was a Renaissance man before there was a Renaissance. He uniquely combined secular and sacred wisdom, distinguishing himself in many fields as a bold and outstanding scholar. I have visited Maimonides' tomb in Tiberias several times where the following expression is inscribed: "From Moses until Moses, there was none like Moses."

He adds that fusing the Maimonides legacy with the promising future of the Abrahamic Family House was a wise choice. "It speaks to the commitment to be deeply rooted in one's own identity while being embracing and respectful of the traditions of others."

Inspired by the Document on Human Fraternity, which was signed in Abu Dhabi in February 2019, the Abrahamic Family House embodies the UAE’s values of peaceful coexistence and mutual understanding. It is due for completion in 2022.

Complex Design

The design of the project was first unveiled by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, at a global gathering in New York in 2019, during the secondnd meeting of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity (HCHF). The design was presented to Pope Francis and the Grand Imam during a meeting in November 2019.

The design, by architect Sir David Adjaye, captures the values shared between Islam, Judaism and Christianity, through three main buildings. As such, the complex recounts the history and builds bridges between human civilizations and religious messages.

The design is very intentional as well, characterised by an iconic geometric architecture of three cubes. The structures are intended to represent the ‘unified commonality and mutual coexistence between the three religions whilst evoking the traditional architecture and retaining the individualism of each of the three faiths’.

During the design phases of the houses of worship, members of religious communities worldwide have been engaged and consulted to ensure consistency with and adherence to the respective religion’s requirements and teachings, according to Abu Dhabi’s media office.

Construction is being ‘closely followed’ by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, according to the AD Media Office.

Promoting inter-faith

Speaking further about the presence of three faiths in one complex that will help promote inter-religious cooperation and cultural diversity, Rabbi Sarna mentioned: "I was so moved by the announcement of the Abrahamic Family House (AFH) in 2019. The leadership shown by the UAE in asserting that sacred spaces can and must co-exist provides spiritual audacity and moral leadership in this precarious moment. The key for the AFH is to be a living, breathing space, where worshippers and visitors feel the organic, natural rhythm of coexistence and synergy. It will be in the air."

Rabbi Sarna speaking at the Interfaith event in DC 2019. Photo Courtesy of the UAE Embassy to the United States
Rabbi Sarna speaking at the Interfaith event in DC 2019. Photo Courtesy of the UAE Embassy to the United States

As a place for learning, dialogue and worship, the Abrahamic Family House is intended to be a cultural landmark and an inspiring global symbol that epitomises the shared values of harmonious co-existence and understanding among the three faiths.

Echoing his sentiment on the UAE-Israel cultural and bilateral ties, Rabbi Sarna says: "As a faith leader, my focus is not on trade or government. I am interested in people, civilizations, and spiritual narratives. We must raise up the tent of Abraham once again, broad enough to include all of his children. We must build a narrative which is inclusive of Muslims, Christians and Jews, and open to all of G-d's children. In my view, powerful religious and cultural narratives are the bedrock of a shared future."

Although the synagogue will be the UAE's first, a small Jewish community of expatriates attend a house for private worship.

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