Abu Dhabi's first permanent public art installation comprising nine bronze monuments that represent each letter of 'tolerance'.- Photo Courtesy: www.guyferrer.com
Dubai - Sheikh Mohammed said the UAE and tolerance are "two sides of the same coin".
It was in 2008 that Abu Dhabi unveiled its first permanent public art sculpture in the city. The installation by French artist Guy Ferrer, which still stands in front of the Crown Prince's office today, comprises nine monumental bronze sculptures, each representing a letter of the word 'tolerance'. Each letter evokes a different religion or spirituality.
"I was privileged to work on that very first public art display. It shows how this idea of tolerance has always been on the UAE's mind," Dr Reem Tariq El Mutwalli, art and culture consultant, told Khaleej Times.
Fast forward to 10 years later and the UAE has just declared 2019 as the 'Year of Tolerance'. And for El Mutwalli, it's not surprising.
"This concept of tolerance is not something new, so the announcement is very expected and welcomed by all in the country. When that first installation went up 10 years ago, it was put there as an emblem to greet all. That message continues today. The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was a torch for tolerance and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, (and) in fact, all the UAE leaders, are continuing to keep that torch lit."
All it takes is a walk down the street or a visit to a restaurant to see just how multicultural the UAE is. One of the few places around the world where cultures collide into one, the country features an everyday sight of Filipinos, Indians, Russians and Sudanese all working together under one roof. And with that diversity comes tolerance.
Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance, said the declaration strengthens the UAE's position as a global role model for peace. But rather than simply speak of the 160 different nationalities mixing together here, what sets the tolerance bar high in the UAE is how a country based on Muslim values has set aside dedicated plots of land to let others here practise their own beliefs.
From the Shiva and Krishna Mandir Hindu Temple in Bur Dubai to St Mary's Catholic Church in Oud Mehta, faith and religion is respected, no matter the difference in beliefs.
"The countless places of worship that stand side by side with mosques are a testament of a nation that opens up its arms and encompasses others that are different from it. Only when you are tolerant to others will you succeed," El Mutwalli said.
The upcoming visit of Pope Francis to the UAE in February 2019 is yet another milestone in the nation's path as a global role model for peace, amity and tolerance.
As a resident in the UAE, South African expatriate Anita van Tonder said there is a reason so many people choose to live in a country that "we temporarily call home".
"As we strive for our own success, we have to find ways to stay focused and coexist among many cultures, religions and lifestyle. Everyone has their own habits and cultural preferences and we face daily struggles and disagreements, which challenge our comfort zone. But as an expat woman in the UAE, I embrace living in a diverse environment. The daily struggles have made me strong."
A law that requires you to be tolerant
With more than 180 nationalities living peacefully together in the UAE, the President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, issued Law No. 02 of 2015 to protect all religions against hate, religious intolerance and discrimination. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said the law "guarantees the freedom of individuals from religious intolerance and hate crimes and underpins the UAE's policy of inclusiveness".
Some of the main provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Legislation include the criminalisation of any act that insults religion through any form of expression, be it speech or the written word, books, pamphlets or online media. It also punishes anyone for terming other religious groups or individuals as infidels, or unbelievers.
The law aims to safeguard people regardless of their origin, beliefs or race, against acts that promote religious hate and intolerance.
A bridge that connects humanity
Just over a year ago, ahead of the International Day for Tolerance on November 16, the pedestrian bridge over the Dubai Water Canal was named Tolerance Bridge. Announcing the name via his official Twitter handle, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said bridges in the UAE connect humanity "literally and metaphorically".
"Tomorrow is the International Day for Tolerance ... This day marks the state of tolerance in the UAE. The country's residents are the happiest and the most tolerant," he tweeted.
Sheikh Mohammed said the UAE and tolerance are "two sides of the same coin". He added that tolerance is a "true value for Emiratis and a guarantee for the future of development in the nation".