Plans were revealed for the construction of an interfaith complex that will house a church, synagogue, and mosque in the United Arab Emirates as part of an effort to promote religious harmony and bridge adherents of the three Abrahamic religions.
The complex, known as the Abrahamic Family House, will be located on Saadiyat Island near Abu Dhabi.
The project is a result of Roman Catholic Pope Francis’ papal visit to Abu Dhabi in February when the pontiff and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar in Egypt signed a declaration establishing the interfaith Higher Committee of Human Fraternity.
The Abrahamic Family House is the first formal initiative of the higher committee.
Plans by British architect David Adjaye were unveiled during the Celebration of Human Fraternity at a New York City public library on Sept. 20.
In a statement, Adjaye declared that the Abrahamic Family House will be “open to the world.” He expressed hope that it will serve as a space for people across society to “learn and engage in a mission of peaceful coexistence for generations to come."
"As an architect, I want to create a building that starts to dissolve the notion of hierarchical difference — it should represent universality and totality — something higher that enhances the richness of human life,” Adjaye said.
Exclusive Op-eds from the Presidential Campaigns
“We hope we have set out a plan for a beautiful and thought-provoking space that celebrates the three faiths and stimulates dialogue and understanding at a critical time for the world.”
According to Reuters, the synagogue that will be built as part of the interfaith complex will be the first public Jewish house of worship in the UAE even though a small congregation of Jews already meets at a house for worship in Abu Dhabi.
Higher Committee member Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig of Washington Hebrew Congregation said in a statement that the new complex is an “important opportunity for all who believe in the power of faith and humanity.”
“It will help build bridges between religious leaders and communities as well as foster peace and harmony in an era that is too often defined by difference,” Lustig said. “I am honored to be part of such an esteemed group working to champion love over hate, justice over injustice, and faith over fear."
Last week's meeting in New York followed the inaugural meeting of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity at the Vatican in Rome earlier this month. The committee consists of religious, educational, and cultural leaders of different faith backgrounds from across the globe.
According to a news release, Adjaye’s contemporary design was chosen through a “rigorous process” that included input from architects of diverse backgrounds and faiths.
But what was “particularly striking” about Adjaye’s design was how it incorporated separate worship spaces for each religion as well as space for an informal gathering, the release explains.
At each house of worship, visitors will have the ability to observe services, listen to scripture and experience religious rituals.
The UAE has taken steps in recent years to promote religious freedom and tolerance. But the leadership has also been criticized for jailing activists and punishing political dissent.
In November 2018, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE, Armed Forces Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, met with a group of conservative American evangelical leaders in Abu Dhabi a few days before the delegation met with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
"The UAE is aggressively working to combat extremism in the Middle East and beyond. Their leadership is encouraging," Tony Perkins, now chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said after the visit.
"They have an appreciation for religious freedom that is rare in this region,” Perkins, who's also president of the Family Research Council, added. “Under the crown prince's leadership, the UAE is a more tolerant nation, where Christians are allowed to worship freely. I saw firsthand how this freedom of worship is boosting the economy and security of the nation."