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The biggest region of the United Arab Emirates starts a process of regularisation. Christians in the country see the initiative with good eyes but “precaution” is needed.
The authorities of the most important and most extensive region of the United Arab Emirates has announced the beginning of a legal process through which 19 worship places of faith minorities in their territory are to be given a license to operate legally.
According to the Abu Dhabi executive Director for the Community Development Department, Sultan Al Daheri, 17 of these religious communities are Christian, one is Hindu and another is Gurdwara Sikh.
“Tolerance, mutual respect and cooperation are fundamental for a nation that seeks to create harmony among diverse sectors of society”, Al Daheri said. “The department is working on the framework that will facilitate the requirements to give worship licenses and organise mechanisms to serve all religions and sects”.
OPEN DOORS: POSITIVE REACTION, BUT...
The Director of Open Doors Spain, Ted Blake, reacted to the news after being in touch with Christian sources in the Persian Gulf. They see this initiative with good eyes. “This is apparently a serious initiative started by the Arab United Emirates. We want to trust that their intentions are good and that the outcome of this initiative is beneficial for the local Christians. [Authorities] have spoken to local Christians to let them know they want, to listen to them and know their concerns to help their needs”.
Nonetheless, “precaution” is needed, says Blake. “This could be nothing more than a campaign to improve the image of the country in the world, giving an image of an open and tolerant country, which can in its turn improve commercial relations with the exterior”.
The decision of offering licenses to minority faith communities comes four months after the visit of Pope Francis. The head of the Roman Catholic Church then said: “It seems a country that is open, not closed. Religiosity too: Islam is an open Islam, not closed, of dialogue, an Islam of fraternity and peace”, Francis said then as he seemed to encourage more religious freedom.
8% OF THE POPULATION OF THE EMIRATES IS CHRISTIAN
According to Joshua Project, 7.9% of the population of the Emirates is Christian, and 1.3% evangelicals. The average growth of Christians in the country (5.5%) is higher than the global average (2.6%).
According to Open Doors in Spain based on conversations with local Christians, “a prudential time is needed, to see how the worship places will be administered”. The details of the legalisation of church buildings will only be made public as they are implemented.
INTER-RELIGIOUS DIALOGUE CENTRE CLOSED IN AUSTRIA
The legalisation of these 19 non-Muslim worship places comes just weeks after the Austrian Parliament called to close the KAICIID, the centre of inter-religious dialogue funded by Saudi Arabia, Austria and Spain. It was a reaction to the news of a new execution of a political opposition leader in Saudi Arabia.
Speaking about Saudi Arabia, Blake said: “It is a contradiction that a country that does practically allow no religious expression a part from that of its political leadership finances a centre for religious dialogue”.