Something wonderful is being built in the United Arab Emirates, in the capital Abu Dhabi, and it will be inaugurated next year – construction is now well underway. It is called the House of the Abrahamic Family. It will be a large complex with three matching large buildings facing a central garden, and in the center of the garden will be a learning center. One of the buildings will be the Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue, the other the St. Francis Church and the other the Imam Al-Tayeb Mosque. The three houses of worship will rest on the same foundation platform. It will be the first religious center in the world where Judaism, Christianity and Islam will share the same campus.
The world-famous architect for the project, Sir David Adjaye Obe, explained that he wanted to preserve “the unique experience of each of the religions” but at the same time “to connect them”. All three places of worship will be the same on the outside and the same size, but their interiors will display the structural elements commonly used in each religion. Obe’s decision to have them share the same foundation is a stroke of genius in design, since each of these religions has its foundation built on the first patriarch, Abraham, whose sons, Isaac and Ishmael, founded the family trees. which led to Judaism, Christianity and Islam – as told in the Torah, the Bible and the Koran.
The project arose out of the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace,” which is a joint declaration signed by Pope Francis of the Catholic Church and Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the February 4, 2019., after their face-to-face meeting in Abu Dhabi to address these all-important global issues.
The three places of worship resting on a single foundation are an architectural representation of the relationship between these three world religions, which are the three main monotheistic faiths followed by more than half of the world’s population – and growing. By 2100, nearly three-quarters of the world’s population will be Christians, Muslims or Jews. The percentage of Jewish people will remain very low, but the Jewish presence in the unstable Middle East makes them very important in any quest for world peace.
It is crucial to remember that Christianity and Islam recognize their origins in the original patriarchs and prophets of the Hebrew scriptures. Christianity accepts the books of the Hebrew Bible as part of the Christian Bible (the “Old Testament”). Islam accepts the great prophets of the Old and New Testaments: Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Job, Jonah, John the Baptist and Jesus – for Muslims, Muhammad is the last Prophet. And Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus, is mentioned much more often in the Koran than in the New Testament.
In addition, it is important to remember that the name of the one God in the Arabic language (in the Quran) is Allah, and it is simply a slightly different pronunciation of the Hebrew word “El / Elohim”, the most common name. for the one God in the Hebrew scriptures. (Hebrew and Arabic are two Semitic languages, sharing thousands of identical root words.) Even more telling, if you are Arabic speaking and you are a Christian (yes, there are a lot of Arabic speaking Christians) you are calling God. the Father, Allah. Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same supreme and unique God. It is a historical fact. It is corroborated by historical linguistic analysis and by modern anthropology. There are subtle differences in our human understanding of God, but God is God and God and Allah are one.
The fundamental brotherhood and similarities between the monotheistic religions of the world are more important for peace than their differences. The Catholic Church has officially recognized it since the Vatican Council II of 1962-65, and this teaching is reflected in the Catholic Catechism (1992 edition), which states: “The plan of salvation also includes those who recognize the Creator, in the first place among which there are Muslims; they profess to have the faith of Abraham, and with us they worship the one and merciful God, judge of men at the last day (CCC 841).
The aforementioned Document on Human Brotherhood for World Peace of 2019 is one of the most important official declarations in the history of world religions. This document and the Abrahamic Family Home soon to be opened in Abu Dhabi show the best way forward.
An example to the contrary is that I have to denounce the idiocy of ex-Lt. General (and convicted felon) Michael Flynn in his recent public statement saying, “If we are to have a nation under God… we must have one religion. Flynn is so ignorant that he doesn’t realize that we already have a fundamental belief system, and that is monotheism. Some 90% of Americans believe in the existence of God or a supreme higher power (Pew Research Center (2017). We are almost all monotheists. But the point is: within monotheism we have different religions and denominations – that’s why religious freedom is protected in America. General Flynn, good luck that everyone follows a religion. Which one? Could that be the Irish-American Catholicism you grew up with? I hate you say, but I don’t think even the Pope would support you on that.
The Qur’an has a striking passage about interfaith coexistence in Sura Al-Ma’idah (5:48): “If Allah had willed, He could have made all peoples into one nation united in one religion, but He intended to test you in what He gave you; so race with each other to do whatever is right. To Allah, all will eventually return together, and He will then inform you of what you had disputes over. There are going to be different religions, different versions of monotheism. It’s not so bad.
However, don’t be fooled by irresponsible, divisive, crisis-centric journalism and religious fanaticism. The vast majority of well-educated Christian and Muslim teachers teach about peace and coexistence. Yes, there are a small number of fanatics (Christians, Jews and Muslims), but we cannot allow them to get the slightest appearance that they truly reflect their religions. They don’t. The new Abrahamic family home will be a living and breathing monument of interfaith understanding and cooperation.
The one in Abu Dhabi should not be the only one built in the world. On the contrary, we need others built in New York, London, Paris, Jakarta, Cairo, Beirut, Jerusalem and many other cities. These Abrahamic family homes could change the world. The cost of their construction, compared to the war, will be almost zero.
Sometimes doing the right thing is easy. All we have to do is remind ourselves every day that we are all children of Abraham.
John Nassivera is a former professor who remains affiliated with the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University. He lives in Vermont and part time in Mexico.