Abrahamic Family House Brings 3 Religions Together in Abu Dhabi
The United Arab Emirates has been pioneering interfaith work in the Arab world for almost a decade, and it has been my privilege to have been involved over the years in the different initiatives, in particular the Abu Dhabi Forum for Peace and, more recently, the activities of the UAE Ministry of Tolerance.
However, the most dramatic of these initiatives reached an historic milestone last week with the launch of the Abrahamic Family House, an exquisitely beautiful complex of three separate religious buildings – a mosque, a church and a synagogue, connected by a common space, including areas for conferences and exhibitions as well as the administration of the center.
The vision for this complex came from the historic visit of Pope Francis to the Emirates and the signing in 2019 of a Declaration of Human Fraternity between the Pope and Sheikh Ahmed Al Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar, the fountainhead of Sunni Muslim learning in the world. Above all, this vision was envisaged and facilitated by UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed, as the embodiment of the worldview and teaching of humanism and interreligious tolerance of his late father and founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed.
Located in the midst of the cultural hub of Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, embraced by the Louvre on one side and the Guggenheim Museum on the other, this complex housing three separate places of worship alongside one another is designed to be a powerful universal message to honor the separate integrity of each religion, while conveying a spirit of mutual respect and shared religioethical values for the benefit of humanity at large.
Designed by the award-winning architect Sir David Adjaye, there is indeed a striking common architectural theme to all three houses, while at the same time they express their own individuality, especially in their interior design. The bare simplicity of the mosque conveys an aesthetic majesty which is awe-inspiring; the church has a stunningly beautiful abstract interior that seeks to echo the light of St. Peter’s cathedral; and the synagogue, which takes its inspiration from the Tabernacle, has a lovely intimacy that evokes the transcendent at the same time.
This complex is envisioned also as a place of education and edification, introducing the particularities of each religious traditions while at the same time conveying the powerful message of genuine respect for religious diversity. Nevertheless, it is not a museum of religions, but rather a complex of vibrant religious vitality. Respective religious leaders have been appointed for each of the houses of worship in which regular religious services will take place.