The following is excerpted from Celebrating Tolerance: Religious Diversity in the United Arab Emirates, a first-of-its-kind book published to celebrate the 2019 Year of Tolerance in the UAE. A diverse group of faiths have collaborated in producing this book, which serves as a compendium of their experiences of coexisting peacefully in the country. Representatives of each faith provide a brief overview of its migration to the UAE in the early 1960s and 1970s with an understanding of its rituals resulting in an engaging and informative read. Envisioned by Reverend Andrew Thompson from the Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi, the book delivers an important message of tolerance and serves as a testament to the country's highly tolerant views and acceptance of a very diverse group of people who come from all over the world.


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by His Excellency Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah


The United Arab Emirates is a land of tolerance, charity and peace, which continues to support all efforts that aim to promote the spirit of fraternity and harmony, for the common good of all of humanity. The UAE supports the principles of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies. This initiative promotes the values of dialogue, understanding and mutual recognition of the other. These indispensable, universal values for our world are necessary in order to firmly root the tree of peace in our world.

I hope this book allows you to come to know better the emphasis the UAE places on developing the values of tolerance and peaceful coexistence, and towards implementing the necessary legal measures to protect these values, such as the UAE’s Anti-Discrimination Law.

The principles of the Marrakesh Declaration, published in 2016 and endorsed by the UAE government, demands peaceful coexistence and citizenship; therefore, the Declaration establishes an Islamic paradigm to further understanding and benefit of the previous traditions and cultures, in order to foster coexistence in this and future times. The Marrakesh Declaration was not an inconsequential document, rather it arose out of an understanding of our established religious texts and early traditions that clearly promote coexistence, conviviality and harmony. The Marrakesh Declaration also highlights the obligation of religious leaders to examine their respective scriptures, history, and heritage to find a sound basis for tolerance and coexistence.

Indeed, this is exactly what the UAE’s Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies is attempting to do by presenting this narrative and vision. The narrative of Islam calls for peace and tolerance; this is reliant upon authentic texts and rightly guided historical precedents. This narrative is a correct interpretation, distinct from and opposite to those fallacious interpretations enlisted by extremists and those outside of the boundaries of religion and reason.

We know that religion, in essence, is a positive force in people’s lives and is a force of peace that enlivens our spirits and is not one that annihilates them. On this basis, we firmly believe that a return to our religious texts coupled with interpretations appropriate to our time and place is that which allows a sound refutation of those who call for enmity, animus, terrorism and the resultant anti-Muslim sentiments.

We believe that all religious traditions hold within their texts many of the principles that call for peace and universal human dignity. Moreover, respecting religious differences is the strongest foundation to countering extremism and violence, religious or otherwise. This is firmly established in all of our shared faiths. For instance, from our shared sacred texts, we find these divine instructions and commands: “Just as your Lord is Merciful, you too must be merciful, and just as God is Compassionate, you too must be compassionate” (Psalms 17:145).

We also find in the Bible, for example, countless texts speaking of love and tolerance. For instance, in the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6, verse 12, we find, “And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 11, verse 25, “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them.” In the Holy Qur’an, we also find numerous verses that enjoin forgiveness, such as that in Surah Al A’raf, verse 199, “Practice forgiveness, command what is right, and turn away from the ignorant”; Surah Shura, verse 43, “And verily, for the one who is patient and forgives, this is at the essence of the affair”; and in Surah Taghabun, “If you forgive them, pardon them, then surely God is all-Forgiving, all-Merciful.” In addition to many Qur’anic verses, there are many narrations of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) indicating the same truths.

Our Islamic conception of values refers to a shared basis for all human values. This is because Islam established the principle that all human beings are absolutely equal. They all have one God and one Father. Allah says in the Qur’an: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is the one who is the most pious of you.” (Surah Al Hojrat, verse 13).

Prophet Mohammed (ASWS) says: “O ye people, your God is one and your Father is one: Ye all go back to Adam, and Adam is created from dust. Truly the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is the one who is the most pious of you. An Arab has no more righteous than a non-Arab, a non-Arab has no privilege over an Arab, a red person is no better than a white, a white is no better than a red except in piety” (narrated by Al Turmuthi).

That is why I am of the opinion that there are shared human values. I also believe in spite of the fact that globalisation and the advances in communication have abolished the material barriers, the psychological barriers are still there.

Prophet Mohammed’s message is for all human beings. Allah says in the Qur’an: “Say: ‘O men! I am sent unto you all, as the Messenger of Allah, to Whom belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth: there is no god but He: it is He that giveth both life and death. So believe in Allah and His Messenger, the Unlettered Prophet, who believeth in Allah and His words: follow him that (so) ye may be guided’.” (Surah Al A’raf, verse 158).

Islam confirms that the inclination to righteousness, faith, and the truth is an instinct. Allah says in the Qur’an: “So set thou thy face steadily and truly to the Faith: (establish) Allah’s handiwork according to the pattern on which He has made mankind: no change (let there be) in the work (wrought) by Allah” (Surah Al Room, verse 30).

This is also in line with an Arab proverb: “Treat people as you would like them to treat you” and the saying of Prophet Mohammed (ASWS), “None of you is a true believer unless he desires the welfare of his brother as he desires his own welfare.”

Why is love a universal value? Because it is attractive to all people, even those who do not follow its path. This is the true touchstone for values, all human beings aspire for them, all want to be referred to as tolerant, just and so forth.

The most important value, which is the key to solving the world’s problems, is respect of – even love of – diversity, and regarding it as an essential element in the human composite.

By properly managing our differences and promoting virtue – the law of virtue – in addition to the law of human rights, we can lay the foundation for the activation of common values. In so doing, we will turn diversity into harmony, enmity into love, as in the Qur’an, “Nor can goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is better: Then will he between whom and thee was hatred become as it were thy friend and intimate.” It is a moral law laid down by the Qur’an here, the law that goodness breeds goodness and love gives love.

Only through respecting differences, stressing their importance, and extending the bridges of unity, can we go back to the ‘value’ of the human being, to the fact that we all deserve to embrace these human values.

This book, through recounting the experiences of religious minorities in the UAE, does not mean we are eliminating or aligning against any other religions or belief systems. Instead, we are strengthening our shared values within our immediate circle. This is also connected with other extended circles, including more distant religions and humanistic philosophies, which extol the sanctity of life and the need for human rights.



HE Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah is the President of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, based in Abu Dhabi. He was the former Mauritanian Minister of Justice and Judge in the Mauritanian Supreme Court of Justice and is the also the Chair of the Dialogue Committee. In addition to being the Secretary to the Islamic Intellectual Forum of the Islamic Fiqh Academy in Jeddah, he is also a Professor in King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah. He is the Chairman of the Emirates Fatwa Council. His work is widely recognised throughout the Islamic world and his global reach is reflected in his role as the President of the Global Centre for Renewal and Guidance based in London, the World Council for Mosques, Islamic World League in Makkah and the Islamic Fiqh Council, an affiliate of the Organisation of Islamic Conference in Jeddah.


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Celebrating Tolerance is priced at AED 145. The book is also available in Arabic.