The first stop was at the Saint Andrew’s Center, an Anglican compound with more than 40 Christian worshipping groups, built in 1975. Students visited the Saint Nicholas Greek-Orthodox church that has worshippers from many Arab countries – mostly Palestinians, Syrian and Lebanese – with masses combining Arabic and Greek. There are more than 700 Abu Dhabi families registered with this church, and Greek Orthodox Christians are building a Cathedral in Mussaffah to accommodate the growing community. Saint Nicholas church includes a magnificent iconostasis and icons from Greece. Students had the opportunity to learn about Saint Nicholas, to discover liturgical and theological elements of one of the Patriarchate of Antioch’s Churches, and compare them to Catholic features.
They then visited the Seventh-Day Adventist church in located in the same compound. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church is a Protestant Christian denomination distinguished by its observance of Saturday, the 7th day of the week as the Sabbath, and its emphasis on the imminent Second Coming or Advent of Jesus-Christ. Students observed one part of the Saturday service that included a sermon, singing, scripture reading and prayer.
Lastly, students visited the Saint Andrew’s Anglican church that clearly presents a different layout in terms of architecture and religious symbolism, with its high ceilings to accommodate large windows, allowing light to flood the church as a reminded that “God’s Church is the Light of Christ in the world”. Saint Andrew’s congregation is a member of the Worldwide Anglican Communion and part of the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf.
The second stop was at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This mosque was initiated by the late president H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who wanted to build a place of worship which unites the cultural diversity of the Islamic world, as well as the historical and modern values of architecture and art. It is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates. Its design and construction uses artisans and materials such as marble stone, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics from many countries, including Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, China, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Greece and United Arab Emirates. Open to both Muslims and non-Muslims, the mosque plays a pioneering role in intercultural and interreligious dialogue, in addition to abiding to the teachings of Islam in order to spread peace.
According to Dr. Chrabieh, “Although Islam is the official religion of the country, the United Arab Emirates have always advocated freedom of religion. The constitution guarantees the ‘freedom to exercise religious worship in accordance with established customs, provided that it does not conflict with public policy or violate public morals’ (Article 32). Religious minorities include Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Baha’i and Druze. Places of worship range from churches to Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Sikh temples. The story of these communities in the United Arab Emirates challenges the stereotypes people elsewhere have of Southwestern Asia and Islam. It is a story that needs to be told more – that of tolerance, mutual respect and conviviality”.