What does the Year of Tolerance actually involve?

Emphasising the values of peaceful co-existence, open dialogue and respect, the UAE wants to serve as a global template of tolerance worth emulating in today’s fragmented world!

As we all turn a new leaf with the exit of 2018, we are confronted with an image of a world that is divided, perhaps more than ever.

The irony is that while modern technology has made it easier for us to connect with one another, it has also created misunderstanding, misinformation and prejudice in all corners of the globe.

It is with this in mind that the UAE government has declared 2019 as the Year of Tolerance to emphasise acceptance, open mindedness and compassion.

During the official announcement in December last year, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the UAE, stressed that the theme upholds the country’s desire to “instil the values of co-existence and peace in local, regional and international communities”.

He further added: “The Year of Tolerance will be celebrated as a national effort towards further advancing a decades-long dream of creating a tolerant and cohesive society, open
to peoples of varying cultures and religions from around the world.”

The theme will focus on five main pillars: deepening the values of tolerance and co-existence among cultures by teaching its importance among youth; solidifying the UAE’s position as a global model through initiatives and dialogues; implementing programmes to create an accepting community; drafting policies that encourage cultural and religious tolerance via open communication and fostering tolerance through media projects
and initiatives.

To ensure that the nation achieves its objectives, a Supreme National Committee for Tolerance has been formed, represented by individuals from various fields. The group is tasked with developing general strategies in line with this year’s theme.

“We are working to make the UAE a key global reference for the culture of tolerance, its policies, laws and practices,” UAE vice-president Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum said.

“Tolerance does boost our strength and resilience and establishes a more humanitarian global and Emirati society.

“The committee will be tasked with promoting the values of tolerance in the society and spread the UAE tolerance model globally.”

All for one, one for all

The central message that encapsulates this year’s theme is inclusivity and understanding that we can all co-exist in harmony despite our differences.

This is perfectly demonstrated in the country’s hosting of the Special Olympics
World Games from 14th to 21st March.

The eight-day tournament will bring together around 7,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from all over the world.

The government, with help from the public and private sectors, aims to use the event as a springboard to develop more sustainable programmes to help people of determination in their daily lives, in an effort to enable them to be productive members of society.

Etihad Airways is already taking action by encouraging people of determination to take part in its Young Aviators programme in the hope of inspiring them to take up a career
in aviation.

Meanwhile, inclusivity through gender equality is the message of a directive from Sheikh Khalifa stating that for 2019, half of the members of the Federal National Council must be women.

The order, according to the UAE Government Communication Office, would ‘further empower Emirati women and bolster their contributions to development’.

The Abu Dhabi Judicial Department has also launched the Tolerance Centre for Reconciliation to help facilitate amicable court settlements for everyone.

More inter-cultural activities are also on the cards with cooperation from embassies and community groups to bridge cultural understanding within the community. Events such as Abu Dhabi Classics, UAE-China Week, Emirati-French Cultural Dialogue, The Arts Center at NYUAD and Korean Film Festival are just some of the examples.

But of all the events lined up, the hottest topic is the historic visit of Pope Francis to Abu Dhabi from 3rd to 5th February – marking the first time that the head of the Catholic Church will set foot on UAE soil.

On a similar note, construction of the country’s first Hindu temple in Abu Mureikheh, located between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, is already under way.

For Reverend Andrew Thompson, senior chaplain at St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi, the upcoming visit vividly illustrates to the world the country’s commitment to respect all religions, with worshipers allowed to practise their faith in peace.

“It’s a tribute to the UAE and Pope Francis recognises their effort to build a society that is inclusive and co-existing,” says Rev Andrew, whose book, Celebrating Tolerance: Religious Diversity in the UAE, will see its timely release this year.

In hindsight, tolerance has served as one of the country’s crucial building blocks, with Sheikh Zayed himself espousing the virtue of looking beyond another person’s belief, faith, race and background.

It is well documented how Sheikh Zayed would willingly reach out and listen patiently to neighbouring, and sometimes warring, tribes to maintain peace.

The founding father’s vision of a country where various nationalities could live side by side was the foundation that shaped the UAE, as we know it today.

It is no wonder then that this year’s theme is widely regarded as an extension of 2018’s Year of Zayed.

“You see people from various places leaving their home countries to live and work here
in the hope of finding a better life,” says Reverend Andrew.

Reverend Andrew

“One of the things that create community away from home is faith.

“The freedom to worship, where people can come together and create a new community based on their faith in a land where they’re inspired to keep growing, is a special privilege not enjoyed in some parts of the world,” he continues.

“The freedom of religion that we enjoy here actually benefits the UAE because the people feel more positive about staying and living here because the environment encourages it. This is something that the entire world can learn from and hopefully emulate.”

WORDS Ferdinand Godinez

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