ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — A unique forum initiated by the Bahá’ís of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is allowing religious leaders of the country to go beyond building mutual respect to fostering coexistence and unity of vision on questions of common concern.
The forum was established at the outset of the pandemic as a space for representatives of the diverse religious communities of the UAE to pray for the well-being of the people of their country, but quickly evolved to become a means for religious leaders to explore the role of religion in contributing to the material and spiritual progress of society in tangible terms.
“What has made these gatherings remarkable is that participants consult together about how they can stimulate further discussions within their faith communities to build unity of thought and to support collective endeavors that contribute to the betterment of our society,” says Roeia Thabet, representative of the Bahá’ís of the country.
She continues: “We also explore profound concepts and themes related to social transformation and reflect on how religion can inspire action among larger groups of people.”
At a recent gathering focused on the Bahá’í principle of the equality of women and men, a participant stated: “All of us, as religious leaders, have a significant role in shaping the culture of true understanding of equality between men and women.”
In a paper prepared for the discussion and distributed to participants, the Bahá’ís of the UAE highlighted that equality between women and men is an aspect of human reality and not just a condition to be achieved for the common good.
The paper reads in part: “The search for meaning, for purpose, for community; the capacity to love, to create, to persevere, has no gender. Such an assertion has profound implications for the organization of every aspect of human society. That which makes human beings human—their inherent dignity and nobility—is neither male nor female.”
This and other themes examined over the past year are part of an overarching conversation on coexistence in Emirati society, a discourse that has gained significant prominence in recent years not only in the UAE but in the whole Arab region.
“This group has raised the bar on coexistence and tolerance by bringing everyone of different religions together and commencing valuable discussions,” says Ashis Barua, representative of the country’s Buddhist community. Referring to the unified spirit of the gatherings, Mr. Barua continues: “It is truly rare… in our lifetime.”
Dr. Thabet of the Bahá’í community describes the strong bonds of friendship that have been fostered among the participants: “We have become much closer through these gatherings, sitting together for hours with real focus on how to foster greater coexistence in society and promote the welfare of communities. This kind of dialogue among leaders of different faiths is a significant experience in our country.”