UAE opens interfaith center that houses Gulf state’s first official synagogue

Published: February 17, 2023

British chief rabbi affixes mezuzah during inauguration of Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue, which will host Shabbat prayers on Friday evening.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates on Thursday opened a center housing a mosque, church and the country’s first official synagogue with the aim of promoting interfaith coexistence in the Muslim nation.

The oil-rich Gulf federation, which normalized relations with Israel in 2020, is home to a small but active Jewish community that usually prays in private.

With three houses of worship in the same place, the Abrahamic Family House, inaugurated on Thursday in the capital Abu Dhabi, is the first of its kind.

“The center will be a platform for learning and dialogue, a model of coexistence,” said its president, Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak.

“Visitors are invited to participate in religious services, guided tours, celebrations and opportunities to explore faith,” he said in a statement released on Friday.

The three houses of worship are of equal stature and share the same external dimensions.

The only other synagogue in the Gulf Arab region is in Bahrain, which also has a small Jewish community.

The Association of Gulf Jewish Communities praised the UAE for opening another house of worship in the region.

“We are particularly excited to see another synagogue built in the GCC” (Gulf Cooperation Council), it said in a statement.

“There is something very special about a synagogue being built in a Muslim country.”

At Thursday’s opening ceremony, UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis affixed a mezuzah to the entrance of the new Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue.

Later Friday, the local Jewish community will hold Shabbat prayers in the synagogue, led by UAE Chief Rabbi Yehuda Sarna.

On Sunday, a Torah scroll donated by UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan will be brought to the synagogue in a dedication ceremony.

The 2020 normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel was part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords that also saw the Jewish state establish diplomatic ties with Bahrain and Morocco.

The UAE was the first Gulf country to normalize ties with Israel and only the third Arab nation to do so after Egypt and Jordan.

The Abraham Accords broke with long-standing pan-Arab policy to isolate Israel until it withdraws from the occupied territories and accepts Palestinian statehood.

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