The UAE is a major trading, tourism, financial and oil-producing country among the Gulf states and a major player in the Gulf Cooperation Council. Hopefully, the accord will usher in an era of peace and peaceful co-existence in the Middle East.
The UAE has done much to enhance/promote peace and tolerance among the major religions in the Middle East.
Its achievements include:
1. In early February 2019, it hosted a high-level fraternal meeting between Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al Azhar. The meeting resulted in the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together on Feb 4, 2019. The document declared the adoption of a culture of dialogue as the path, mutual cooperation as the code of conduct and reciprocal understanding as the method and standard. It also highlighted the values of peace, justice based on mercy, protection of places of worship, the right of women and protection of the rights of children, the elderly, weak, disabled and oppressed. Essentially, the representatives of two major world religions came to an endorsement of common human values.
2. The UAE has a Ministry for Tolerance, which aims to be a bridge of communication between peoples of different cultures who reject extremism and emphasise the acceptance of the other. As an example of tolerance, Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, renamed the Mohammad bin Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi to Mariam, Umm Eisa mosque, meaning “Mary, the Mother of Jesus” in Arabic. The Virgin Mary is a major religious icon in both Christianity and Islam.3. It plans to build an Abrahamic Family House (AFT) on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi. The AFT will be an interfaith complex consisting of three main buildings – a mosque, synagogue and church. The three places of worship would have the same dimensions but orient to the direction and contain structural elements inherited within each faith’s tradition. It is fitting to name the AFT after Prophet Abraham (Nabi Ibrahim), the common patriarch of the three Abrahamic religions.We in Malaysia may wish to adopt the UAE model of peace and tolerance. Our National Unity Ministry should have a separate department for tolerance. Its key role would be to teach the youth the values of co-existence among different races and cultures and hold cultural programmes of each race.
In the 1960s, the Form 1 History syllabus in national schools included chapters on all the world’s major religions. Through this, students at that time, whether Malay, Chinese or Indian, had a basic knowledge of the major religions.
We could also build a “House of All Faiths” on one suitable site. This would consist of separate buildings of the major religions in Malaysia. Each building would house a particular religion and should be easily accessible to visitors and scholars. Students and young people should be encouraged to visit this House. Inter-racial dialogue and enlightenment should be the order of the day.
I have had the privilege of visiting Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu temples, churches, mosques and Sikh gurdwara. In each religious house, I found a sense of inner peace.
I hope one day in the not-too-distant future, I shall be able to visit a House of All Faiths in Malaysia, where the different religious houses are in one compound, accessible to all and preaching peace and tolerance.
H. K. WONG