As Ramadan comes to an end, so do a month of iftars and suhoors. Fashion houses like Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Dior, and Bulgari were among the luxury brands who offered a breaking of the fast for their special guests in the Middle East. They were rife with camaraderie, music, and delicious Arabic food like shorba and kibbe. Above and beyond delicacies and ambiances, one iftar, stood out. Hosted by UAE Ambassador Hend Al Otaiba, a “Majlon” at the UAE Embassy in Paris, brought together an inspired and unique group for a discussion. Representing different religions—Baron Eric de Rothschild, Honorary president of the Grand Synagogue of Paris and chairman of the Shoah Memorial of Paris; Chems-eddine Mohamed Hafiz, rector of the Paris Grand Mosque; and Father Xavier Gué of the Paris Catholic Institute convened at the Embassy for an exchange on tolerance and respect of various religious faiths.
Ambassador Al Otaiba explained that her idea and its consequent name (born from the merger of the Arabic majlis—the intellectual circle—and the French same thing, the salon) were a concept would travel, and it has received coverage on the likes of Le Monde penned by Jean-Pierre Filiu, Sciences Po professor.
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Ahead of the discussion between de Rothschild, rector Hafiz, and Father Gué, HE Al Otaiba greeted her many guests, among them Rachida Dati, mayor of the 7th arrondissement in Paris and former French Minister of Justice. An excerpt of Her Excellency’s welcome speech is translated from French below.
“…The United Arab Emirates welcomes 200 different nationalities. No one finds it surprising that Christians come to our mosques for iftar during the Holy Month of Ramadan. Or, that Muslims are always eager to admire the Christmas and Easter celebrations each year. I’ve also heard prayers in local synagogues where Muslims have joined the services to understand and honor Jewish traditions. This model of religious pluralism and tolerance is what makes the Emirates a haven of peace in a region that is known for conflict.
Three years ago, we had the immense honor of receiving His Holiness the Pope. It was the first time that the head of the Catholic church arrived on the soil of the Arab Peninsula. He came with a message of peace—in his words, he came as a brother to write together a page of dialogue and travel together on paths of peace. This historic visit of Pope Francis will encourage our country for generations to come.
Shortly afterwards we finalized the Abraham Accords. The Abraham Accords symbolizes the importance that we give for maintaining peace in the Middle East and the world. We didn’t stop there. This year, we will inaugurate an interconfessional complex in Abu Dhabi called the Abrahamic Family House. Born from the signatures on the document on the human fraternity between Pope Francis and the Grand Imam Ahmed El Tayeb in 2019, the Abrahamic Family House will have a church, mosque, and a synagogue. It will serve as a platform for exchange to encourage dialogue and co-existence between the three Abrahamic religions established in the Emirates.”
Dati, who joined HE Ambassador Hend Al Otaiba after the exchange to break fast, along with her other guests, commented, “Tonight was an evening of communion, of sharing—in debates, exchanges, and a dinner—in my upbringing, when you share a dinner, you share everything. It’s very unique—but it shows the values of the United Arab Emirates: ecumenism, communion, sharing, and openness.”