View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Turning Mosques in Malls into Multi-Faith Facilities in UAE

Modifying Mosques in Malls
It was interesting to read of HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s recent decree requiring all new shopping centres to have mosques and health clinics for the convenience of shoppers.

It would be an enhancement, if new worship facilities in shopping centres were constructed in such a way as to provide prayer spaces for people of all faiths.

While the mosque in the mall will be a great convenience for the many Muslims in the Emirates, if these facilities were appropriately constructed they would offer a service to a larger number of residents who make up the multi-religious community in the UAE.

Innovative and Expressive of Religious Acceptance
To design interfaith facilities in new shopping centres could be architecturally innovative and give tangible expression to the UAE’s declared commitment to religious freedom, tolerance and understanding.

A recent poll conducted by Arabian Business revealed that 69% of respondents believed that more should be done to integrate expatriates into local Arab culture. To construct worship spaces for people of different faiths would signal a strong message of inclusiveness and encourage all residents and tourists to the UAE to respect each other’s culture and religion.

Such a move would be a fitting expression of the current interfaith movement that has been initiated by 138 Muslim scholars and leaders from around the world to meet and find common ground.

Personally Profound
Earlier this year I stopped at Washington DC’s International Airport. After eating and shopping I spotted an Interfaith Chapel and decided to enter for a rest and a time of reflection. There were several people inside, some sitting on chairs with their heads bowed, others kneeling while reading their Scriptures and a young man from Morocco who was offering salah (prayers) on a prayer mat. After people quietly prayed according to their own custom some of us shook hands and greeted each other. I think we were all touched by our common humanity, our love for God and our yearning for peace in the world. Such an experience was possible because of the hospitality of this worship place that welcomed people of different faiths.

Seeking Salaam and Sign of Hope
Several years ago my wife and I visited the Grand Mosque in Cordoba and found this to be one of the highlights of our visit to Spain. The history of this building is as colorful as its candy-striped arches and jasper columns as it has changed from being a Roman temple to a Christian church to a Muslim mosque and then back to a cathedral. The building stands as an honest reminder of some sad acts of conquest and intolerance but to walk around with Muslims, Christians and people of no particular religion, appreciating the holy spaces and the treasures enshrined in the magnificent architecture was an act of pilgrimage and a sign of hope.

Religion in the United Arab Emirates, ETE.
Religious Freedom in the UAE: Commendable Advances, Significant Challenges, ETE.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Interfaith Chapel.