UAE: Muslim employers ensure Christian domestic workers attend weekend church prayers

Beginning with Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the country's founding father, all leaders have been advocates of religious tolerance



Photo: Wam
Photo: Wam

By WAM

Published: Thu 10 Nov 2022, 6:13 AM

Last updated: Thu 10 Nov 2022, 2:03 PM

An Ethiopian priest recalls that his first surprising experience after joining a Dubai church, a decade ago, was receiving phone calls from Muslim families employing Ethiopian female domestic workers.

"A woman on the other line would ask the prayer time and location of the church, saying she wants to drop her domestic worker at church for prayers. Being a Muslim she is not familiar with it and asks: 'can you please tell me when I can I take her back after prayers?' " reminisces Father Dereje Jimma, Administrator of St Michael and St Arsema Church in Dubai.

Most of those women employers are Emiratis, or other Arab nationals such as Egyptians, Lebanese, Syrians and Jordanians etc. and his church still receives such calls, reveals the priest, who is also the General Manager of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church in the Middle East.

Weekly off, church prayers are a blessing for an estimated 200,000 Ethiopians living in the UAE, around 50 per cent of whom are Christians, he says.

"Most of these Christians are single women, mostly domestic workers. A weekly off and an opportunity to attend church prayers are a great blessing for these women who have left their families back home," says Father Jimma.

Of course, he says, it is a known fact that the UAE leadership is keen about progressive legislation for the welfare of all employees in the country, especially domestic workers who are entitled to get weekly off day(s).

Beginning with Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE's founding father, all leaders have been advocates of religious tolerance as well, the priest points out.

"However, the real challenge is how effectively such legislations are implemented and whether such ideals of tolerance and co-existence are ingrained into the grassroots level – into the hearts and minds of the people," he asserts.

The phone calls from Muslim employers have convinced Father Jimma that the UAE has been successful in tackling these challenges.

"If you visit my church during the weekend and see Muslim employers and their Christian domestic workers coming together in their car, you will also be convinced. It is a beautiful scene you can witness at any church in the UAE."

In churches across the emirates, when a Christian domestic worker gets a weekly off, she spends her morning for church prayers and evening for personal and social interactions, which are essential for one's spiritual and personal or social life, the priest says.

"They are blessed to have such a privilege in the UAE."

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church does not have its own building in the UAE, but conducts prayers in other churches in all emirates, except in Ajman.

"Our first church building will come up in Abu Dhabi in the near future." He says it is the community's dream to have own church buildings in all emirates.

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