The United Arab Emirates will build a new synagogue as part of an interfaith compound that will also house a mosque and church and is reportedly set to open in 2022.
The announcement of the Abrahamic Family House, on the Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, follows a visit by Pope Francis to the UAE in February, the first by a pope to the Arabian Peninsula. During the trip, the pope signed a joint declaration with the grand imam of al-Azhar, Dr. Ahmed el-Tayeb, that called for religious tolerance and dialogue.
An interfaith council to oversee projects advancing tolerance was formed as a result of the declaration, and named the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity. The Abrahamic Family House is its first initiative.
“This is an important opportunity for all who believe in the power of faith and humanity. It will help build bridges between religious leaders and communities as well as foster peace and harmony in an era that is too often defined by difference,” said Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig, senior rabbi at Washington Hebrew Congregation, and a Jewish representative of the committee.
The design for the Abrahamic Family House, by the renowned architect David Adjaye, was unveiled during a meeting in New York this week, the second for the committee. According to Gulf News, it will take three years to complete.
The UAE is already home to a synagogue, in Dubai, formed in 2008. Though it receives quiet support from the Emirati authorities, its members have largely kept a low profile. The new state-sanctioned synagogue would mark a significant step forward for public worship of Judaism in the Gulf state.
In May, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, the chaplain at New York University, became the first chief rabbi of the Jewish community of the United Arab Emirates.
The shift in its attitude toward Jewish practice comes as ties between the UAE and Israel have quietly warmed over shared concerns about Iran. Senior Israeli ministers have openly visited the country and in 2018, Israel’s national anthem was played at a judo tournament in Abu Dhabi when its team member won a gold medal.
JTA contributed to this report.