The UAE’s Abrahamic Family House, housing a mosque, synagogue and church, is a major symbol of the success of the Abraham Accords and the winds of coexistence that are blowing over the region; a breeze that has been pioneered by the UAE, Bahrain and Israel, as well as Morocco and Egypt and other countries that are embracing new relationships. The site was inaugurated in a ceremony last week and it has been greeted with praise in the UAE, Israel and across the region by those who support coexistence.
According to The National newspaper in the UAE, the “UAE’s Abrahamic Family House will open to the public on March 1. Entry to the multi-faith place of worship, which houses a mosque, synagogue and church, will be free of charge, but bookings must be made in advance.” Attractions will also be available online. “President Sheikh Mohamed on Thursday said the establishment of the Abrahamic Family House, on Saadiyat Island, was in line with the nation’s celebration of diversity and tolerance,” the report said.
Sheikh Mohamed said the UAE is proud of its history which includes people from diverse backgrounds. “The UAE has a proud history of people from diverse communities working together to create new possibilities. As the Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi is inaugurated, we remain committed to harnessing the power of mutual respect, understanding and diversity to achieve shared progress,” Sheikh Mohamed tweeted.
The National noted that on Friday, Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, said the religious gathering place “embodies the UAE’s values of mutual respect and peaceful co-existence”. Sheikh Saif and Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence, officially inaugurated the new center on Thursday.
There is a lot that is unique about this site and also how it symbolizes and embodies the kinds of initiatives that have blossomed since the Abraham Accords. The interesting aspect of the Accords is that they went far beyond “normalization” and just having a peace deal. Unlike past peace deals with Jordan and Egypt in the 1980s and 1990s, as well as the Oslo Accords, the idea of coexistence was baked into the new relations with the UAE and Bahrain. This means that things many people take for granted elsewhere, like having a synagogue or having kosher food and Jews being able to travel openly, are now normal in the UAE.
However, there is even more to this era of coexistence than just these elements. There have been rising attacks on Jews in the US and across Europe. These have included violent hate crimes, such as the shootings in California last week, and also terror attacks targeting synagogues and places of worship. The coexistence that the UAE has put in place contrasts sharply with the declining security of synagogues that has marked the West.
Other aspects of the Abrahamic Family House
ANOTHER ASPECT of the Abrahamic Family House is that it brings together three religions of the region. This is a major contrast with the past decades as well, where extremism was often a threat to the region. This extremism has included groups like Al Qaeda and also ISIS.
Has the region turned a corner on extremism? It appears that the last decades have led to a real change in the way extremists once made inroads in the Middle East. For instance, it wasn’t long ago that the Muslim Brotherhood and its intolerant messages appeared to be on the rise.
The MB served as the basis for many political parties and groups such as Hamas. Today it seems many of these parties are not so popular. There have been some setbacks, such as the Taliban retaking power in Afghanistan, but it appears that the Middle East is no longer a place in which extremists can easily gain influence. Instead, the trend appears to be for extremists to recruit further away; either in parts of the Sahel, sub-Saharan Africa, or in other parts of Asia and in Europe.
This means that the stereotypes about the Middle East, as a place of conflict and “ancient hatreds” and “millennia-old conflicts” is shifting. It used to be that people who looked for “conflicts” to cover, automatically moved to the Middle East. but the region may be shifting. This doesn’t mean that all conflicts are finished or that extremism is finished. ISIS has continued to carry out brutal attacks in Syria, and vigilance is needed against terror groups.
However, the importance of the message coming out of the UAE is part of a much larger trend that relates to confronting intolerance. The launch of the site has been praised. Rev. Johnnie Moore tweeted “as an evangelical Christian, I just want to say how much I appreciate that the vision and mission of the Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi have been clear and consistent from day one to its inauguration: it isn’t about merging religions. Rather, it is a landmark to peaceful coexistence in a region where Judaism, Christianity and Islam all emerged… It shows that in a country of 200 nationalities everyone is welcome & everyone should feel free to maintain their own beliefs & practices. It is also a beacon of peace for the Middle East.”
Former Bahraini ambassador to the US Houda Nonoo also praised the inauguration of the unique center of coexistence. “In a world where people are being attacked for their religious beliefs, the UAE – and our region more broadly- are a beacon of light.”
The Abrahamic Family House is unique because it also represents a new series of buildings bringing together the three faiths. This is in contrast to some other places where although Jewish synagogues and sites may historically exist, the Jewish community has declined or vanished. This is the case in countries like Iraq, Syria, or parts of North Africa where huge Jewish communities once lived, but have all but vanished.
The Jewish community is just one of many in these lands that lost out. Yazidis were persecuted by ISIS, as were ancient Christian communities. Kurds have been forced to flee places like Afrin. And this is just in the last decade. Therefore the idea of bringing together the faiths in new buildings is unique. In some other places, there have been attempts to renovate old synagogues and highlight coexistence, including in Egypt and Morocco. Therefore the symbolism of what the UAE has done is important and part of a new trend.