By H.E. Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan
The President of the United Arab Emirates, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, declared 2019 as the Year of Tolerance in the UAE. It follows 2018’s Year of Zayed that marked the birth centennial of the UAE’s late founder, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. The tolerance of Sheikh Zayed’s distinguished his leadership. Sheikh Zayed warmly welcomed talented and ambitious people to the UAE irrespective of their nationality, ethnicity, gender, net worth, religious or philosophical beliefs. He sheltered them safely under a welcoming Arab tent.
Sheikh Zayed made the UAE a stunningly diverse nation where people from some 200 countries live and work together in peace. To ensure such harmony in the UAE, the government established a Ministry of Tolerance — the only one in the world. The Ministry promotes and nourishes tolerance in the country, and, in this Year of Tolerance, the Ministry seeks to explain its meaning.
Tolerance is certainly an attitude and arguably a virtue, but tolerance is not a natural state. At its most basic level, tolerance motivates me to “put up” with people different from me. I say nothing and do nothing even though other people may disagree with me, irritate me, or displease me. The same people may regard me as such, and they also say nothing. We demonstrate tolerance. We do not threaten or harm one another. Our mutual silence allows us to coexist.
Basic tolerance helps governments maintain law and order and exercise their power effectively. But basic tolerance fails to satisfy the moral person. It fails to animate a lively society. It ignores the potential power of the virtue of tolerance.
The UAE Ministry of Tolerance aims to nurture that potential power. The Ministry advocates a tolerance that encourages and enables people to engage people different from themselves, to imagine their feelings, thoughts, and experiences, to understand each person as a unique individual, to develop a sympathetic consciousness of the concerns of other people. Empathy and compassion arise from honest and respectful dialogue.
The United Arab Emirates provides the perfect breeding ground for the cultivation of tolerance. A grand global education is at hand, and our cities are crowded with strangers — all of whom are different and unique.
The Ministry of Tolerance is, among many other actions, demonstrating the beneficial power of tolerance in a program that intends to touch our youth and by extension the entire UAE population. The Ministry led three legions of young men and women from diverse national and religious backgrounds in a study of the complexities of six practices and attitudes that emanate from a spirit of tolerance. We believe that the study of empathy, compassion, dialogue, conflict resolution, resilience, and teamwork will prepare those young people to become effective advocates for tolerance. We have designated them “Champions of Tolerance,” and their mandate is to initiate discussions with other groups of diverse young people around the country. It is our belief that the ensuing conversations will reinforce tolerance in the consciousness of the nation and inspire complementary actions in families, schools, universities, and businesses.
The Year of Tolerance will be a triumphant year as it elevates the attitude of tolerance from the level of passive endurance to the higher level of active virtue. On their recent visit to the UAE, His Holiness Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayyeb made a joint declaration that, while noting “positive steps taken by our modern civilization,” insists that “there exists both a moral deterioration that influences international action and a weakening of spiritual values and responsibility.”
The UAE believes that acts motivated by the virtue of tolerance will slow and perhaps reverse such moral deterioration. The virtues of tolerance have the power to create safe, secure, peaceful, and prosperous communities and societies. The UAE’s model of tolerance has the potential to transcend national borders and become a global movement for good.