The United Arab Emirates is an influential regional power in the Arabian Peninsula. Standing between Saudi Arabia and across the Strait of Hormuz from Iran, and with great wealth from oil as well as tourist and foreign corporate investment, she attracts many people from around the work. As such, for years there has been much tension with the religions of the different people who reside there, especially Christians, and the majority Muslim population as well as the Islamic rulers. The Catholic Church has been very active in the country, advocating for increased religious acceptance as well as the permission of Churches to be built in order to serve her people as well as, from various reports on the ground, the increased interest in Christianity from the locals.
Many churches have been built and legalized, but many still remain illegal. However, the United Arab Emirates this past weekend has, in a positive move of even if only on paper, a demonstration of openness as the authorities granted official recognition to 17 Christian places of worship, including churches built decades ago, as well as even a Hindu temple. This is because while there are many Filipinos in the country, there is a large and growing presence of Indians from all throughout India.
For the Indian community, this is great news. A member of the St Joseph Konkani community told AsiaNews that this is a sign of greater dialogue and tolerance in the Emirates, as evinced it the “Monthi Fest, the Nativity of Mother Mary on September 7th,” which was preceded by “the nine-day novena” and solemn functions.
“Many Indians, who lived, worked and prospered economically in the UAE for decades, travelled to the UAE for the Papal Mass celebrations in February,” a token of the close ties they still have with the country that welcomed them.
“For decades, our great leaders have welcomed people from various religions, making the UAE a place for all. Abu Dhabi is now a leading model for tolerance and co-existence,” said Dr Mugheer Al Khaili, chairman of the DCD.
In a country where most of the population is foreign, “The UAE is keen on embracing unity and promoting the inclusion of everyone who had contributed to the development of the country,” Al Khaili explained. “With this new initiative, the places of worship will now be working and operating under one umbrella.” (source)
The Emirates welcomed the Pope in February, making it the first Gulf nation to do so. Because of the tenuous situation of the Church in that area, the Church relies on the laity to pursue her mission. As a result of the new policies and increased openness, it is being reported that members of all religions are being allowed to practice their faith freely in accordance with the laws of the Emirates and on the condition of not ‘harming the customs and traditions of the majority Muslim population.’
While there are still tensions, there is hope for many that an increase in the diversity of religions and values is a signal of an increased openness to Christianity, something noted by the Catholics as well as Anglicans, Coptic Orthodox, and the Evangelicals, all who hold missionary churches in the country and have been positively affected by the recent decision., who consider the situation of the UAE as making her into a type of “outpost” against Saudi Arabia, where Christianity is highly suppressed by the government and Christian are routinely persecuted.
This story is also a reminder to Christians about the fact that the fight with Islam, while it can and does take on a physical component at times, is ultimately a battle of beliefs that is won by Christians living their faith as they are supposed to live it rather than by arguments or military weapons. Islam is a threat, but Muslims are also a mission ground, and the fact that many Muslims genuinely believe in Islam makes it all the more relevant because what truths exist in Islam are perfected by the Faith, and thus for the Muslim, true submission to Allah is found in submission to Christ and His Church that He established in Matthew 16:18.
Walid has noted many times that while people think about “fighting” the Muslims, the focus should be on their conversion because the text of Sacred Scripture suggests so, and that instead of lining up to kneel before and place their lips on the rock at Mecca during the Hajj, they will line up and open their lips to receive the true body and blood of Christ.
Major changes do not usually happen immediately, but gradually. Signs such as the openness of the UAE to Christianity and the legalization of Churches, even with all of the problems in society and the still dangers that Christians have to daily contend with, is movement in a positive direction. This is more than what can be said for the Western world, for while it is comparatively safer and has a longer Christian history, is rapidly and persistently moving towards embracing paganism and if not rejecting, abolishing what was left of Christian history.
If one needs proof of this, the acceptance of sodom and sodomite behavior is sufficient to show the decline in morals and the embrace of all evil. One cannot say this so plainly about the Muslims, for while Islam is evil, there are many Muslims who truly desire to live righteous lives, even if their religion is grossly wrong or evil. While God does not want people to follow a false religion, the desire to do what is right is often times enough to give hope and push people in the right directions. One must not forget that St. Paul, while he was an evil man who murdered St. Stephen, he did so because he genuinely believed that he was following truth and was not afraid to follow it to its full end, which while one cannot definitively say so, likely was a factor in why he had a miraculous revelation from Christ, because he was open to truth and, having had the truth presented to him and being shown the error of his ways, recanted of them and became a Christian.
Thus be strong against all evils, but also do not give up on people, for only God knows the heart, and God will work miracles and and help those who genuinely want to love Him and serve Him, for this is the reason why the human race was created and is the purpose of man as stated in the Baltimore Catechism, “the purpose of man is to know, love, and serve God, to be content with Him in this life and forever happy with Him in the next.”