Abu Dhabi’s crown prince ordered the change to ‘consolidate bonds of humanity between followers of different religions’
A mosque in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) capital, has been renamed “Mary, Mother of Jesus”.
Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Abu Dhabi crown prince and deputy supreme commander of the UAE armed forces, ordered that the mosque be renamed to “consolidate bonds of humanity between followers of different religions.”
Mary plays a prominent role in the Christian and Islamic traditions.
Reverend Canon Andrew Thompson of St. Andrew’s Church, an Anglican parish near the newly renamed mosque, expressed is gratitude in an interview with Gulf News.
“We are delighted that we are celebrating something that we have in common between both our faiths,” he said.
Rev Thompson also said that Mary “symbolises obedience to God” in both faiths, and that he looked forward to “growing in deeper understanding” with members of the Islamic faith.
The move to rename the mosque – which was formerly known as the Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Mosque – reflects the UAE’s efforts to appear as champions religious tolerance in the region.
Although the UAE’s official religion is Islam, the nation’s constitution includes a clause guaranteeing the freedom to practice any religion. The International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland also ranked the UAE first regionally and third globally for religious tolerance.
In 2015, the Roman Catholic Church in Abu Dhabi opened its second church, according to the State Department of the United States. The UAE also granted land to construct the first Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi.
Jeramie Rinne, senior pastor of the Evangelical Community Church in Abu Dhabi, said in an interview with The Cable that the mosque’s renaming indicates the importance of the UAE’s stance on religious tolerance.
“The UAE continues to set the pace in this region for peaceful coexistence and cooperation,” he said. “We are very encouraged and feel blessed to be a part of this nation.”
The decision to rename an Abu Dhabi mosque in honour of Mary, Mother of Jesus is testimony to what unites Christians and Muslims, a UAE minister has said.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, had renamed the mosque last Wednesday on the 19th day of Ramadan.
“It offers a message that we hope the followers of both faiths will take to heart, recognising that we share much in the way of common values and a common commitment to humanity,” said Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, Minister of State for Tolerance, in an opinion article on International Catholic News, a British website.
The decision shows the country’s commitment to principles of religious tolerance and inter-faith dialogue, Sheikha Lubna wrote, according to Wam, the state news agency. The mosque is located next to Catholic, Anglican and Coptic Orthodox churches.
“Though we are a Muslim-majority country, we now have over 40 churches, catering to hundreds of thousands of believers of many different Christian denominations, along with Sikh and Hindu places of worship,” Sheikha Lubna wrote.
“We take pride in that diversity, which encompasses the 200 or so nationalities that live in our country, and also in the evidence of our own ancient Christian heritage 1,400 years ago.”
The choice of name is “of huge significance” as the Virgin Mary and Jesus, known in Arabic as Maryam and Issa, are not only at “the very heart” in Christianity, but also in Islam.
“At a time when there are those who seek to pit believers of one faith against the other, it is testimony to what unites us,” Sheikha Lubna said.
“It offers a message that we hope the followers of both faiths will take to heart, recognising that we share much in the way of common values and a common commitment to humanity.”