The Minister of State for Tolerance celebrates a recent mosque renaming in a stirring open letter…

Just a few days ago, Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Mosque underwent a bit of a transformation.

Not a physical one, however – it has been renamed as Mariam Umm Eisa, which translates into English as Mary, Mother of Jesus.

The aim is to further promote an environment of tolerance in the UAE, particularly around religion, and the change was ordered by HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

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Now Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the Emirates’ Minister of State for Tolerance, has spoken out on the move in an insightful letter published on the International Catholic News website.

The minister, who was appointed to the newly created role last year, said the name change reflects the “UAE’s firm commitment to the principles of religious tolerance and inter-faith dialogue”.

“Though we are a Muslim-majority country, we now have over 40 churches, catering to hundreds of thousands of believers of many different Christian denominations, along with Sikh and Hindu places of worship,” wrote Sheikha Lubna.

“We take pride in that diversity, which encompasses the 200 or so nationalities that live in our country, and also in the evidence of our own ancient Christian heritage 1,400 years ago.

The minister also noted that the location of Mariam Umm Eisa was particularly important, as it sits opposite three Christian houses of worship, meaning thousands of people “intermingle in harmony as they go to perform their prayers”.

The choice of name was chosen to highlight Christianity and Islam’s common characteristics – indeed, Christ’s mother Mary is mentioned many times throughout the Quran, and even has a chapter named after her (Surat Maryam).

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“At a time when there are those who seek to pit believers of one faith against the other, it is testimony to what unites us,” Sheikha Luban agreed in her article.

“It offers a message that we hope the followers of both faiths will take to heart, recognising that we share much in the way of common values and a common commitment to humanity.”

The “unprecedented” renaming was also lauded by Dubai’s Christian churches, who said the renaming “demonstrates the true image of Islam”.

“The UAE sets a real example of tolerance, which transcends ideas and slogans to become a practical reality and reaching the stage of social harmony,” Reverend Bishoy Fakhri, pastor of Abu Dhabi’s Cathedral Church in Abu Dhabi, told WAM.

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