06/30/2019 UAE (International Christian Concern) – The United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced that they have begun the process of authorizing 19 non-Muslim places of worship in Abu Dhabi. This includes 17 Christian churches and chapels for local Christian communities.
This decision comes just a few months after Pope Francis visited the UAE, the first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula. Over a million Christians live in the UAE, but few are actually citizens. This Islamic country’s economy is closely intertwined with the presence of expat workers, who provide most of the UAE’s Christian presence. As a result, Christians can experience more freedoms in the UAE than in other places in the Middle East.
Yet, because Islam is the country’s official religion, challenges do exist. For example, the authorization of these 17 churches is conducted through a legal process inspired by Islamic law. Christians cannot simply worship where they please, and must seek the necessary permissions to do so. UAE Muslims with an interest in learning about Christianity can face judicial proceedings if they convert. Blasphemy laws do exist. And Christians are not allowed to proselytize.
The gestures of the UAE to open churches and host a papal visit are important. But it is also equally important to address the root causes which limit religious freedom in the country.