Why tolerance has a place in Islam and the Middle East

Source: CNN

By Yousef Al Otaiba, who is the ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN) November 16, the International Day for Tolerance, is an important time to reflect on the urgent need to promote greater understanding among all people, and bring cultures together.

Divisiveness and polarization are on the rise across the world, and — if left unchecked — this trend will undermine global stability and peace. The UAE is pushing against this rising tide by creating a model that can serve as a road map for others to promote greater tolerance and openness.


Yousef Al Otaiba

Unique government policies, innovative partnerships and interfaith dialogues are three of the ways the UAE is leading by example.

Just this month, the UAE hosted a group of religious leaders — including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Dr. Ahmed el-Tayeb — the centers of the Anglican Church and Sunni Islam — for a frank, honest conversation about how to create more open and tolerant societies. The two leaders were in Abu Dhabi, highlighting shared values and advocating for greater compassion and acceptance of all cultures.

These are the same values shared by Emiratis, and have been ingrained in the UAE’s DNA since my country’s founding in 1971. It is why over 200 nationalities call the UAE home. It is why different religions have built 40 churches and three temples (with a fourth on the way) in my country.

These innate values are also why the UAE government and private sector have made such great strides to promote tolerance on a national, and even international, scale.

Through government initiatives, policy organizations and our own rule of law, we’re creating a place where people from all backgrounds, faiths, nationalities and perspectives can join together to learn, engage in artistic expression, and exchange ideas.

The UAE recently established a National Tolerance Program and appointed the world’s first tolerance minister, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, who is tasked with strengthening the government’s role as an “incubator” of tolerance. At a time when the world is filled with so much bigotry, the creation of this ministry is crucial in promoting tolerance, coexistence and respect for others throughout the UAE.

Just recently, the UAE Cabinet also voted to implement the Charter of Tolerance, Coexistence and Peace. This set of agreements — which embraces cultural diversity, and rejects violence, extremism and racism for all citizens, residents and employees in the UAE — is the platform on which the National Tolerance Program operates and achieves its goals.

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