UAE enjoys religious freedom

The Archbishop of Jerusalem and the Near East yesterday paid tributes to President His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, describing him as a strong proponent of tolerance and freedom, given his clear vision of all heavenly religions.

Archbishop Anba Abraham said he was conveying a message of appreciation to the President from the Pope for his role in promoting religious tolerance and allowing all races in the UAE to practice their religious duties without restriction.

In a lecture on Religious Tolerance in the UAE, the Archbishop said the Pope met Sheikh Zayed a few years ago and his impression about him was that he was "a far-sighted and a wise man with a good heart and a wide vision.

"I would like to tell you that the Pope keeps on mentioning Sheikh Zayed and never stops expressing his appreciation for him. This leader has turned the UAE into a paradise dominated by security, stability, prosperity, freedom, democracy and religious forgiveness and tolerance," he said at the Zayed Centre for Coordination and Follow-up.

"In the UAE, one can see all these people with different nationalities, religions and ethnic origins. All of them live in unison and freedom and are allowed to practise their religious activities no matter what they are. What more can we want?

"One might ask how this happens. I would say it is happening because of His Highness's clear vision and understanding of heavenly religions and the right interpretation of religious activities and practices. I would like to see such tolerance everywhere on this planet."

Archbishop Abraham said religious tolerance could be upheld and become widespread if the media and other groups play an effective role in this field. He said the family, cultural background, the school and university syllabi also play a vital part.

He said tolerance is recommended and upheld by the three main heavenly religions and that no religion should be judged through individual acts. "Samaha (religious tolerance) is mentioned in all holy books of those religions and any one who violates such teachings is in fact violating the very principles of the religion.

"You can conclude that those who are violating religious tolerance are mostly individuals, whose acts should not apply to all. It is not reasonable or acceptable that we judge a whole religion through individual and unorganised actions."

In his 30-minute lecture and the ensuing question and answer session, the Archbishop spoke about tolerance in religions through the past ages. He said such a phenomenon was widespread mostly in prosperous periods since it gives rise to security and stability.

The Christian scholar, a Coptic Archbishop from Egypt, recited verses from the Holy Quran, which he said proved that Islam is a religion of tolerance.

One of the verses he cited was "no coercion in religion" which he described as "the highest level of religious tolerance." Another verse was "urge people to believe in God through wisdom and good preaching. Argue with them in a convincing way."

"You should know that since its inception, Islam has dealt with others in a good and tolerant manner. In Christianity and Judaism, tolerance is also a key feature in the holy books.

"As you see, religious tolerance is the pillar of happiness since every heavenly message is intended for the happiness and freedom of man. Anyone who veers away from these principles has nothing to do with religion."