Tensions in the Middle East are still high, but there is a small piece of news that projects hope for the future. Plans have just been unveiled for a massive new interfaith complex in Abu Dhabi, which includes a mosque, church and synagogue.
The facility, called Abrahamic Family House, will be located on Saadiyat Island in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, right next to the new Louvre Abu Dhabi. Abraham is considered a holy prophet in all three religions.
The initiative follows Pope Francis' historic trip to the United Arab Emirates in February 2019: it was the first time that a pontiff visited the Arabian Peninsula.
While there, Bergoglio met with Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, to discuss interreligious harmony in the Arab world and around the world.
The two then published a joint manifesto, "A Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together", who urged political leaders and influential people to “Work hard to spread the culture of tolerance and peaceful coexistence”.
Lo sceicco Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, commemorated the historic meeting by ordering the construction of a building dedicated to inter-religious harmony.
"The new landmark will symbolize the state of human coexistence and fraternity between people of various ethnicities, nationalities and religions in the United Arab Emirates", according to the government news agency Wam.
Abrahamic Family House is expected to be completed in 2022.
Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, ruler of Dubai, have already laid the foundation stone. On September 20, the initial plans for the complex were presented at an event at the New York Public Library in central Manhattan.
British society Adjaye Associates he won the contract for the design of the Abrahamic Family House, which will consist of three large buildings arranged around a central garden, under which there will be a museum and an educational center. It will be a new, incredible architectural complex of the future, like those that we are seeing it born everywhere in the world.
Abrahamic family house, Design. Unity in diversity
"We focused on powerful geometric shapes, three non-aligned cubes, each of them has different orientations", he said Sir David Adjaye.
Each of the three buildings has a similar shape, but the facades have a different architectural design and details that communicate both the shared origins of the three religions and their cultural and historical differences.
Adjaye, who also designed the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo and the National Museum of African American History in Washington DC, claims to have seen the garden "As a powerful metaphor, a safe space in which communities, communions and civilizations come together".
The mosque will be oriented towards Mecca, the bema of the synagogue will look towards Jerusalem and the altar of the Church will point towards the east at sunrise.
Each building will have its own individual access, but the ground will lean into a podium in the center, allowing visitors to the garden to see all three buildings.
United Arab Emirates: lights, shadows and interreligious efforts
The UAE is trying to modernize by working to present an image of religious tolerance. There are still controversial and somewhat contradictory aspects. For example, Sharia law is written in the nation's legal code and the practice of other religions is not penalized, but apostasy (the attempt to convert a Muslim to another religion) is a crime.
The recent influx of workers to work on the country's many construction and hospitality projects has rapidly increased religious diversity. There are hundreds of thousands of Christians now residing in the Muslim majority nation. The Emirates also have a small Jewish population, which has a few thousand people.