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

Published: February 17, 2023

Dubai, United Arab Emirates – The United Arab Emirates has opened a mosque, church and the country’s first official synagogue housing center aimed at promoting inter-faith 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 privately.

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

Its chairman, Mohammed Khalifa Al Mubarak, said, “The center will be a platform for learning and dialogue, a model of coexistence.”

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

The three houses of worship are of similar stature and share similar exterior 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 building a synagogue 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 on Friday, the local Jewish community will hold Shabbat prayers at the synagogue, led by Chief Rabbi Yehuda Sarna of the United Arab Emirates.

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

The 2020 normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel was part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords, in which the Jewish state established diplomatic ties with Bahrain and Morocco.

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

The Abraham Accords broke with a long-standing pan-Arab policy to isolate Israel until it withdrew from the occupied territories and accepted a Palestinian state.

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