In a first, iftar held inside a church premises in Ras Al Khaimah

Keeping with the UAE’s vision for 2019 to be the ‘Year of Tolerance’, a group of expats took the opportunity on Thursday to celebrate Ramadan and partake in a special Iftar inside a church in Ras Al Khaimah.


In what could be a first, the expats, mainly from Kerala, India, spent the evening celebrating Ramadan and partaking in the Iftar inside St. Luke Anglican Church in the northern emirate.

190512 prayers inside church
Muslims break their fast inside St. Luke Anglican Church in Ras Al Khaimah on Thursday, in a bid to support the Year of Tolerance in the UAE

St Luke Anglican Church is part of the Chaplaincy of Dubai and Sharjah with the Northern Emirates, within the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf; one of four Dioceses which make up the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, which is also a Province within the world-wide Anglican Communion. There are five churches within the chaplaincy: St Luke Anglican Church, Ras Al Khaimah; St Nicholas Anglican Church, Fujairah; St Martin Anglican Church, Sharjah; Christ Church (Anglican), Jebel Ali; and the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Dubai.

Chief priests from three religious groups – Hindus, Christians and Muslims – came together to spread the message of peace, love and harmony among the expatriate community in the UAE.


New Signs of Religious Freedom in the Muslim Middle East – Could Saudi Arabia Be Next?

popeuaesaudi_hdvAn estimated 180,000 people attended mass with the Pope in Abu Dhabi in a never-before-seen display of public Christian worship in the United Arab Emirates. Crowds gathered in the UAE’s Zayed Sports City Stadium to hear him just a day after he called on Christians and Muslim leaders to work together.

He spoke about how Christians should live, pointing out that Jesus came to serve and not be served. He went on to say Jesus lived poor in respect to things, but wealthy in love, healed so many lives, but did not spare his own.

At a rare Mideast interfaith gathering on Monday, Pope Francis urged religious leaders to work together to reject war as he began the first ever papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam.

“God is with those who seek peace,” he told an audience consisting of Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince and hundreds of imams, muftis, ministers, and rabbis.

Francis’ visit comes as a group of evangelical leaders has been working over the last few years to improve relations with the Muslim world. And with the Pope holding the first Papal Mass ever on the Arabian Peninsula, the newspaper, The Arab News, was even speculating that he could also become the first Pope to visit Saudi Arabia.

As CBN News reported, several evangelical leaders say the UAE is a good starting point to promote religious freedom among Muslim countries.


Pope Francis gives historic 1st Mass in the birthplace of Islam


Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates — Pope Francis ministered on Tuesday to the thriving Catholic community in the United Arab Emirates as he concluded his historic visit to the Arabian Peninsula with the first-ever papal Mass here and a call for his flock to remain meek in following God. A day after making a broad appeal for Christian and Muslim leaders to work together to promote peace and reject war, Francis celebrated what some considered the largest show of public Christian worship on the peninsula, the birthplace of Islam.

Cheers erupted inside and outside the Zayed Sports City Stadium as Francis arrived and looped through the crowd in his open-sided popemobile, as chants of “Viva il Papa” and “We love you!” echoed from the crowd, estimated to be around 135,000.

Organizers said faithful from 100 countries would attend, as well as 4,000 Muslims from this Muslim federation — evidence of the enormous diversity among the 9 million people who live in the UAE.

“We have to say it is really a big event for us which we never expected,” said Sumitha Pinto, and Indian native who has lived in the UAE for nearly 20 years. She attended the Mass with her husband and four sons, the youngest of whom held up sign with the pope’s photo that read: “Welcome Pope Francis. Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.”


‘Never expected this in my life’: Christians of the UAE hail pope’s visit


ABU DHABI — Sarika Yaqoob and her family left Dubai at midnight to arrive in Abu Dhabi at 3:00 a.m. on Tuesday, the day Pope Francis would deliver a historic mass during what was the first-ever visit by a pontiff to the Arabian Peninsula.

“We’ve been here since 3 a.m., we were walking all the way,” Yaqoob told CNBC at the edge of Zayed Sports City Stadium, where more than 140,000 attendees had gathered for the mass both inside and outside the venue.

Because of blocked roads, her family parked their car some six miles from the stadium and walked. But they aren’t tired, she said, her voice brimming with anticipation. “We are not tired, we are very excited, really energetic … our legs are aching, but it’s something you get to witness once in a lifetime. This is something that is very exciting.”

Yaqoob, whose family hails from Pakistan, is one of the estimated 1 million Catholics living in the United Arab Emirates. The invitation by the UAE government of Pope Francis has drawn attention to the comparative religious freedom enjoyed by its residents, who span more than 200 nationalities, in a region that’s better known for strict Islamic conservatism.

“I never thought I would see this, because it’s a Muslim country,” one attendee, a Filipina resident of Dubai for the past nine years, told CNBC from the stadium stands. “It is so nice … I cannot explain it.”

“This is a very, very big blessing to see him in Abu Dhabi, and was a lifetime experience for us,” said 23-year-old Joshua Sebastian, a Catholic from Kerala, India. “It’s a big deal to see him here in UAE, I’ve only seen him on the internet and videos on Youtube. But seeing him in a close vicinity was like … I have no words for that.”


Top cleric urges Middle East’s Muslims to ’embrace’ Christians

_105475518_mediaitem105475514The head of Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning has urged the Middle East’s Muslims to “embrace” local Christians.

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar in Egypt, told an interfaith meeting in Abu Dhabi attended by Pope Francis that Christians were “our companions”.

He also called on Muslims in the West to integrate into their communities while maintaining their identities.

In his speech, Pope Francis called for a halt to wars in the Middle East.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church, who is on his first official visit to the Arabian peninsula, said the “fateful consequences” of violence could be seen in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya.

The United Arab Emirates is part of a Saudi-led coalition whose intervention in the conflict in Yemen has helped trigger the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Sheikh Ahmed and Pope Francis addressed a gathering of religious representatives at the Abu Dhabi Founder’s Memorial on Monday night after signing a “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together”.

The document calls on leaders of the world to work together to “spread the culture of tolerance” and to “intervene at the earliest opportunity to stop the shedding of innocent blood and bring an end to wars, conflicts, environmental decay and the moral and cultural decline the world is presently experiencing”.

It also includes a strong condemnation of those using God’s name to justify violence. “God, the Almighty, has no need to be defended by anyone and does not want His name to be used to terrorise people,” it states.

Christians – and members of other religious minorities – have been attacked repeatedly by Islamist extremists in countries across the Middle East in recent years. They have also faced restrictions on their ability to practice their religion, as well as legal and social discrimination.


Papal visit: Pope Francis in Abu Dhabi to mark a historic day for inter-faith relations – live updates


History was made on Sunday when the wheels of Pope Francis’s flight from Rome touched down in Abu Dhabi. The Pope’s first day in the UAE will be a moment for all faiths to meet and build strong relationships based on religious tolerance.

Here you will find live coverage of the Pope’s visit from The National’s reporters across the UAE, as it happens. All times UTC+4


5:12 Private meeting with Muslim Council of Elders begins

In a landmark moment for interfaith relations, Pope Francis will attend a private meeting of the members of the Muslim Council of Elders.

The meeting is expected to take between 30 to 45 minutes.

The National’s reporter, Sofia Barbarani, is at the Grand Mosque, at a uniquely quiet time.

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Sofia Barbarani@SofiaBarbarani

Pope Francis is at the Grand mosque in Abu Dhabi meeting with members of the Muslim council of elders. His busy schedule will see him end the day at an interfaith meeting this evening where he is due to give a speech. @TheNationalUAE

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17:08 Pope Francis arrives at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

A convoy of cars, carrying Pope Francis in the Kia Soul has arrived at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Pope Francis was met by the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif University, Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, who welcomed him to the mosque.

John Dennehy@john_denn

Pope Francis. Sheikh Zayed Mosque.

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16:55 Pope Francis’ arrival is imminent

The live stream of Pope Francis’ visit to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has now begun and his arrival appears to be imminent.

The pontiff will attend a private meeting with the Muslim Concil of Elders.


Mixed-faith marriage as a way of life in Muslim-majority Dubai

mixed-faith-marriageUnusually for a couple in Dubai, theirs is a mixed-faith marriage, with Mina – born a Catholic – choosing not to follow standard practice by converting to Islam when they tied the knot.

She is excited to be on the waiting list for the mass that Pope Francis is expected to hold on Feb 5, during the first ever papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula.

If she gets a ticket, Ali has promised to take over the child-care duties for their 14-month-old twin boys to make it easier for her to attend.

“It takes time to understand that every ritual and every habit is personal,” he told Reuters. “So adapting to each other’s rituals is really about giving the other person space to do what they need to do.”

Living in a Muslim-majority country, Ali has faced pressure for Mina to convert. “A lot of people ask so when is she going to be Muslim. It’s one of those things like, so when are you going to come over to our house.”

But he is mindful that even the Prophet Mohammad failed to convert his uncle, so “this is something that I cannot force onto somebody.”


He and Mina started off as business partners when they founded Dubomedy, a Dubai-based arts and comedy school, in 2008.

She remembers their wedding seven years ago as a fond occasion on which both their cultures came together.

“His family came out with the (ululation), Khaleeji (Gulf) music, and my family came out with the O Sole Mio, (Luciano) Pavarotti, you know we had a singer singing Arabic songs and an Italian song,” Mina said.

The couple also celebrate Christmas and fast together for Ramadan.