Holy Smoke

Is Abu Dhabi’s multi-faith ‘Abrahamic Family House’ a beacon of hope or a creepy PR exercise?

19 min listen

The Abrahamic Family House is the name for three giant concrete cubes – a church, a mosque and a synagogue – that have just officially opened their doors in Abu Dhabi. The project is the fruit of a controversial agreement signed there in 2019 by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, that disturbed many Christians with its statement that the existence of separate religions is God’s will. But it’s a spectacular coup for the government of the United Arab Emirates and will no doubt reassure expats that there’s freedom of religion in the UAE. In fact, I wonder how many of them are even aware that ‘apostasy’ – for example, a Muslim converting to Christianity – remains a capital offence in the Emirates. 

But is this sort of carping justified? Since Sharia was adopted by the UAE in 1978, no one has actually been executed for apostasy. And surely the big story here is that Jews, for so long the targets of Muslim anti-semitism, are now welcome to practise their religion in an officially Islamic country. The synagogue of the Abrahamic Family House is the first purpose-built Jewish house of worship to open its doors in the Arab world since the 1930s. There’s no doubt that the UAE is moving quickly in the direction of religious toleration, and perhaps we shouldn’t be too worried by the boilerplate multi-faith jargon emanating from the pompously named ‘Higher Community of Human Fraternity’ that presides over the Abrahamic Family House. 

In this episode of Holy Smoke I weigh the pros and cons of this lavish project with Nathan Eckersley, who’s joining the podcast as our new researcher. He’s excited by the Abrahamic Family House. I think the jury’s still out and I remain to be convinced that the concept of ‘Abrahamic faiths’ is anything more than an irritating fiction. But listen for yourself. 


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