H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, led the discussions in the first episode of the Majlis Mohamed bin Zayed Virtual Ramadan Series, which centred on the UAE’s leading role in promoting harmony between citizens of all faiths, creeds and cultures.
Titled ‘Human Fraternity and Peaceful Coexistence: The Core Message of Faiths,’ the talk aired on Monday 19 April featured contributions from Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, Chairman of the UAE Fatwa Council; Rabbi Dr Elie Abadie, Senior Rabbi, Jewish Council of the Emirates; and Bishop Paul Hinder, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia.
His Highness’s contribution saw him leading the conversations with the faith leaders and the other participants in the talk, discussing the importance of tolerance, acceptance, and mutual respect for all members of its vibrant and diverse community.
His Highness highlighted how this year’s series of the Majlis is particularly significant as it takes place during the 50th anniversary of the founding of the nation, thereby providing an opportunity to showcase the values of peaceful coexistence and harmony between all faiths that have made the country so strong.
Opening the inaugural episode in the Majlis Mohamed bin Zayed Ramadan Series, Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah used the analogy of a river changing colours along its route because of the various soils it flows over, with the different colours representing the different people in society.
“Despite the diversity of ways and methods, the source of the river of prophethood is one and the same. If the river is coloured by the soil of its course, it will always stay true to its course. In fact, the colours of the river in question are the different peoples that flow within it, with their different traditions, needs and interests,” he said.
Bishop Paul Hinder spoke of the historic visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to the UAE two years ago – the first time a leader of the Roman Catholic Church had travelled to the Arabian Peninsula.
“I remember with joy the 4th February 2019 when Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb (the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar) signed a document of human fraternity here in Abu Dhabi under the gaze of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed [bin Zayed] and many other dignitaries from the UAE and around the world. Things like this could happen with God’s grace because there were leaders on all sides with the vision and the courage to make it happen in our own times,” he said.
Rabbi Dr Elie Abadie used his participation in the Majlis to express how the UAE had made a difference in his life and in the life of the religious community he leads.
“I have had the privilege of living in this beautiful and blessed country. As the head of the Jewish community, I have felt very welcome and respected. I have felt the open arms and the embrace of the Emirati people. The concept of tolerance, coexistence and human fraternity are not just concepts, they are lived and practiced here,” he commented.
Peter Hellyar, Advisor at the UAE’s National Media Council, relayed the story of a 1992 archaeological dig on Sir Bani Yas, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan’s favourite island, which uncovered a Christian building containing a small cross.
“I thought, ‘how do I tell the devoutly Muslim president of a devout Muslim country we found a Christian building on his own private island?’ So, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed took the cross to his father. And Sheikh Zayed said: ‘This is excellent! Thank you and carry on – this is part of our history and heritage.’ And he funded our work for the next few years, which was absolutely marvellous.“
Finally, Dr Yousif Al Obaidli, Director-General, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Centre and Maryam Al Zaidi, Preacher at the General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowments, spoke of how the country’s mosques are central to the UAE’s promotion of harmony between all people, irrespective of personal beliefs, culture or faith.
“When the late Sheikh Zayed directed the building of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, he wanted it to be a meeting point for all visitors. The mosque is open to all nationalities, with more than four million visitors annually from outside the country alone,” said Dr Yousif Al Obaidli.
“This mosque I am talking from is the Maryam Umm Issa Mosque. When we think about the meaning of the word Maryam (Mary, the Mother of Jesus), it gives us the feeling of the existing harmony and closeness between all religions,” added Maryam Al Zaidi – preacher in the General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowment Following the talk, H.H. Abdullah bin Zayed held a virtual conversation with the speakers, discussing the meaning of tolerance and peaceful coexistence with each of them, exploring issues such as how shared adversity experienced through the Covid-19 pandemic had strengthened community bonds and how interfaith relations had been cemented further with the visit of Pope Francis to the region in 2019.
The Majlis Mohamed bin Zayed virtual Ramadan series aims to promote learning and reflection during the holy month and beyond, with the series running in conjunction with the 50th anniversary celebrations taking place across the country. Community members are being invited to watch the episodes, engage with the topics being discussed, and reflect on the UAE’s fascinating history.
Episodes will air weekly during the holy month on Mondays at 5:45PM on Emarat TV Channel and on the MBZ Majlis YouTube Channel, with reruns aired on Wednesdays. The next episode will explore the theme of Global Health will be broadcast on Monday, 26 April.