The Irish Times view on Pope Francis in the Gulf: Inter-faith gestures

Pope Francis’s visit to UAE is the first by a pope and the first papal visit to Arabian peninsula, cradle of Islam

Pope Francis is welcomed by Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, upon his arrival to the presidential palace in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi on Monday. Photograph: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis is welcomed by Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, upon his arrival to the presidential palace in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi on Monday. Photograph: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

 

The visit of Pope Francis to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is not his first to a Muslim country as pope. He has visited some of Islam’s most sacred sites, including the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, as well as Muslim-majority countries such as Jordan, Azerbaijan, and Egypt. Next month he will visit Morocco. But his current visit to the UAE is the first by a pope there and also the first papal visit to the Arabian peninsula, cradle of Islam.

Although the UAE officially has a policy of religious tolerance, Christians still face discrimination

An absolute monarchy, the UAE comprises seven emirates where an estimated 7.8 million of the 9.2 million population are expatriates, including about 8,000 Irish. Expats make up the great majority of UAE Christians, including a million Catholics, most of whom are Filipino, Indian, and European.

Pope Francis (R) shakes hands with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in the UAE capital. Photograph: Vatican media/AFP/Getty Images
Pope Francis shakes hands with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in the UAE capital. Photograph: Vatican media/AFP/Getty Images

Islam is the dominant religion and, although the UAE officially has a policy of religious tolerance, Christians still face discrimination. Pope Francis is there to attend a conference on inter-religious dialogue sponsored by the Muslim Council of Elders, an initiative which seeks to counter religious fanaticism. It is an idea of Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo.

Appalling bombardment

Yesterday, Pope Francis told the conference that “we gravely profane God’s name when we use it to justify hatred and violence against a brother or sister. No violence can be justified in the name of religion.” He also called for the rejection of war in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Libya. The UAE is involved in the Yemeni conflict alongside Saudi Arabia, whose appalling bombardment has caused large-scale death and destruction.

This is the fifth meeting between Pope Francis and Sheikh el-Tayeb, evidence that bad feeling between Muslims and Rome, following Pope Benedict’s 2006 comments linking Islam to violence, have dissipated. A further indication today will be the celebration by Pope Francis of an open-air Mass in Abu Dhabi, expected to be the largest such event ever held in one of the most religiously significant parts of the Islamic world.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.