Sensational Synagogues: Abrahamic Family House

On February 16th, 2023, a unique religious site was opened on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. This groundbreaking institution is the Abrahamic Family House, an interfaith religious compound constructed in the United Arab Emirates. The Abrahamic Family House is a large plaza that has a mosque, a church, and a synagogue. It stands as a monument of peace and tolerance between people of different faiths. It is a unified beacon of light and hope.

Leaders of all three faiths were present for the compound’s opening. Emprhaim Mirvis, the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, was in attendance. He referred to the moment as “historic,” seeing the “children of Abraham gathered to build a new world.”

The vision for the Abrahamic Family House originated after the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity by Pope Francis and Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb in February 2019. The UAE’s government paid for all three buildings. This is the first synagogue built in the country since the 1930s. A sign of the UAE’s increasing embrace of its Jewish population and their thriving for tolerance. Renowned architect Sir David Adjaye designed the compound and its buildings.

The central area of the compound consists of a lush garden with paths carved from marble. All of the plants growing there are native to the UAE. It offers visitors a place to sit and contemplate while basking in the serenity that nature provides.

The church, mosque, and synagogue are all the same size, 30 meter cubes. This way each faith stands figuratively and literally equal.

The Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue

The Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue is the first purposely constructed synagogue in the UAE. It is named after a 12th century scholar, philosopher, and medical doctor from the Jewish community in the Middle East. The synagogue can seat around two hundred worshippers.

The building was constructed so that aspects of the Jewish faith and experience were imbued into the structure itself. The building faces west, towards Jerusalem. Stone etching of the ten commandments in Hebrew stand in the synagogue’s entryway.  There is a wooden ark that houses a torah scroll donated by UAE President Sheikh Mohamed himself. Flanking this ark are a pair of beautiful golden menorahs. A mixture of wooden lattices and metal mesh hang above the worshippers, inspired by the roofs of sukkahs and tents. The synagogue has seven stone pillars on the ground and eight pillars above supporting the roof, a symbol of how God is bigger than human creation. There is a mikvah attached to the synagogue.

The Abrahamic Family House also contains a mosque and a church. The Eminence Ahmed El-Tayeb Mosque was built with seven white arches, representing the seven skies of Islam. The Mosque faces towards the sacred Kaaba in Mecca. His Holiness Francis Church is a non-denominational church. Above the entrance are two pillars of uneven height, this represents the ascent and descent of Jesus. In order to keep the church welcoming to all Christian creeds, there are no representations of Jesus or the trinity on display.

The Abrahamic Family House is truly an inspiring achievement and a monument to tolerance and understanding. We hope that this is a bold step towards peace and brotherhood between all peoples.

Further reading:

You can read more about the Abrahamic Family House here and here.