The undeniable benefits of tolerance

Together we must work to promote and defend tolerance as a foundation for growth and prosperity, writes Mohamed Issa Abushahab.
His Excellency Mohamed Issa Abushahab, UAE Ambassador to the EU

By Mohamed Issa Abushahab

Mohamed Issa Abushahab is the Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the Kingdom of Belgium, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the European Union

17 Nov 2020

Tolerance has been a founding principle of the EU since its inception. Indeed, it would have been impossible to sustain the 27-strong block – and the benefits it brings, such as free movement of people and services - without it. It remains essential for successful dialogue and cooperation between Member States.

Yet recent events in Paris, Nice and Vienna have provided a stark reminder that tolerance is not a given; it is a precious resource. It needs to be continuously promoted and defended.

Tolerance signifies an open and inclusive society - something that the EU acknowledges as fundamental to the European way of life. Most recently, in the joint statement discussed at last week’s meeting of EU interior ministers, there was recognition too that a “sense of belonging and equality is of central importance for the social cohesion of our modern, pluralist and open societies”.

As we observe the International Day for Tolerance on 16 November, it is worth reflecting on the role of tolerance in building strong and prosperous societies.

Yes, at its heart lies the fostering of mutual respect and understanding between all citizens and institutions. However, it represents much more. Tolerance is a fundamental building block of growth and prosperity in an increasingly globalised world. Without it, we will not benefit from the opportunities that diversity can deliver for citizens and society.

"As we observe the International Day for Tolerance on 16 November, it is worth reflecting on the role of tolerance in building strong and prosperous societies"

The UAE is one of the most diverse countries in the world. There are more than 200 nationalities and many religions that are living, working and worshipping side-by-side, in peace and harmony.

We are proud of our Islamic values and Emirati heritage, and we take equal pride in embracing pluralism, which invites others to celebrate their own unique identities according to their tradition. The signing of the Abraham Accords between the UAE, Israel and the US in August is testament to this.

In a population of less than 10 million, the UAE is home to some 40 Christian churches, two Hindu temples, a Sikh temple, a synagogue serving a practicing Jewish community and a Buddhist monastery that welcomes a multinational congregation.

We were particularly proud that Pope Francis chose the UAE for the first ever visit by a Pontiff to the Arabian Peninsula, which took place last year. On the occasion of that historic visit, the UAE announced that it would build the Abrahamic Family House on Saadiyat Island, in Abu Dhabi’s cultural district.

This ambitious project, which will celebrate peaceful coexistence, brings together a mosque, a church, and a synagogue on one plot of land with a shared garden and educational centre connecting the three Abrahamic faiths both physically and symbolically.

The cross-fertilisation of ideas that tolerance and diversity bring, is also key to future economic success. It must become part of everyday life and something that is upheld through international partnerships and celebrated in interfaith dialogue. Part of this process will be to encourage the evolution of our legal systems, in order to promote peaceful coexistence.

"We have seen the benefits that tolerance has brought to the EU. In the UAE, openness, inclusiveness and mutual respect have always been a part of our cultural DNA"

The UAE has already taken major steps toward this with its 2015 anti-discrimination law, and its legal reforms implemented last week that further enhance the country's legislative environment, entrench the principles of tolerance, and strengthen its position as a hub that attracts people of all backgrounds to reside and work.

We have seen the benefits that tolerance has brought to the EU. In the UAE, openness, inclusiveness and mutual respect have always been a part of our cultural DNA.

We are committed to promoting common acceptance and supporting countries and regions around the world in their efforts to create pluralistic societies and in reaping the economic and social benefits that this will inevitably bring.

Read the most recent articles written by Mohamed Issa Abushahab - Pope's visit kicks off UAE’s Year of Tolerance

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