ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Interfaith leaders gathered on Monday in Abu Dhabi to mark one year since Pope Francis’ historic trip to the Arabian Peninsula, a visit that saw leading Muslim clerics gather alongside the pope to promote co-existence.
The United Arab Emirates has worked to promote itself over the past year as a beacon of religious tolerance, despite it’s hard limits on political speech. The majority of the country’s population are not Emirati Muslim citizens, but foreigners, millions of whom are Christian and Hindu.
Abu Dhabi hosted Monday’s meeting to showcase its continued efforts in promoting interfaith dialogue as it prepares to break ground this year on a compound that will house a mosque, church and synagogue side by side. The Abrahamic House of Fraternity project is due to be completed in 2022.
In the neighboring emirate of Dubai, an unmarked villa has already been turned into a synagogue.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia, along with other Gulf states, have been expanding their outreach to Christian groups, like evangelicals, and Jewish organizations. The effort coincides with a broader alignment of political interests and ties emerging between Gulf Arab states and Israel, which share a common foe in Iran.
A U.S. rabbi, a representative of the Catholic church and a trained sheikh from Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the revered 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Islamic learning, attended Monday’s briefing where they discussed ongoing interfaith efforts.
Senior Rabbi at the Washington Hebrew Congregation, Bruce Lustig, insisted his participation on this visit was “apolitical.”