Moscow, June 15, 2017
In an effort to “consolidate bonds of humanity between followers of different religions,” a mosque in the Al Mushrif district of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) capital Abu Dhabi was renamed on Wednesday “Mariam, Umm Eisa”—Arabic for “Mary, Mother of Jesus,” reports Gulf News.
The Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Mosque was renamed by order of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. The change has been met with approval by many. Minister of Tolerance Shaikha Lubna Al Qasimi thanked the Crown Prince for his “wise directives in carrying out this initiative that set a shining example, and a beautiful image of the tolerance and coexistence enjoyed by the UAE.”
The Ministry of Tolerance was created last February in an effort to promote harmony as a national value, amidst sectarian conflicts and regional disputes.
Reverend Canon Andrew Thompson, rector of the nearby St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, told Gulf News he is “delighted that we are celebrating something that we have in common between both our faiths.” Jeramie Rinne of the Evangelical Community Church praised Shaikh Mohammad for his “gesture of tolerance,” noting how the UAE “set[s] the pace in this region for peaceful coexistence and cooperation.”
We look forward to growing in deeper understanding with our neighbors, and we celebrate with them the new name of the mosque,” Reverend Thompson said. He also stated that Mary is important for believers of both faiths: “Mary, as the mother of Jesus, is of course a holy, special figure in our communities,” and pinpointing what he sees as the commonality, he remarked, “She is a woman who symbolizes obedience to God.”
Unfortunately, from an Orthodox perspective, the commonality goes no further than the words “Mary, the Mother of Jesus,” as the figure known as Jesus in Islam is but an aberration of the true Christ Whom Christians worship. In Islam, Jesus is merely a prophet, exceeded in greatness by Mohammad, and he was not crucified, and therefore did not rise from the dead. Thus Mary is merely the mother of the man Jesus, rather than the Mother of God. She is a symbol of obedience rather than the greatest saint, united with Christ as God, becoming our chief intercessor.
While entailing a misuse of the memory of the Mother of God, the gesture of diversity and tolerance is a rare one in the region. The UAE is a young country, only 45 years old, still developing its image of peaceful co-existence. Those who oppose this trend face the risk of arrest and detention, according to Newsweek.
This year’s World Happiness Report showed the UAE to be the happiest Arab country, and second in the Middle East, trailing only Israel.