A 1,400-year-old Christian monastery is now open for public visitors. Situated on Sir Bani Yas Island, which is around 200 km west of the UAE's capital, Abu Dhabi, the site is said to have been built and inhabited by a community of around 30 Nestorian monks. As reported by The National, the monks followed "the church of the east - a branch of Christianity that stretched all the way to China."
The historical site has actually been open for visitors since 1992, when it was initially discovered, but has had some changes made for it to be more accessible for those who wish to visit. Now that the site has been refurbished, the public are welcome to partake in an educational trip back in time. The location is now fully functioning with shelters, lighting for night tours, and information boards in English and Arabic.
Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the UAE's Minister of Tolerance, attending the opening ceremony of the ancient church, stated, "The Sir Bani Yas church and monastery sheds light on our cultural history, one that we can be proud of. Its existence is proof of the long-standing values of tolerance and acceptance in our lands."
Catholic Bishop of Southern Arabia, Paul Hinder, was also in attendance at the momentous opening of the historical location. He made a speech stating in it: "At the beginning, there must have been remarkable reciprocal tolerance because otherwise it would not have worked. But they had to coexist as there was only a small population."
Archaeologists and historians believe that the monastery was active for around 150 years, and was known to be a "stop-off point for traders and travelers along established routes between east and west." As reported by The National, there are a number of concepts and ideas about why the monastery became desolate over the course of history. One of the theories was that with the growth of Islam in the region, many Christians may have converted to Islam or left the region -- despite the fact that both religions existed in harmony for centuries.
Visitors of the 1,400-year-old historical monument can expect to embark on a tour which includes rooms in which monks tended to their daily lives and the utensils they used. Abu Dhabi based archaeologist, Dr. Richard Cuttler, who worked on the monastery for a year, said in a statement about the monks who resided there, "They burned incense, were solitary and led a life of prayer -- it was fairly austere. But even we would recognise them as monks from the robes. There are letters between the head office in Iraq for the church of the east and they say the [monks] are not adhering to rules. They are taking wives and getting married. There is no evidence for a violent end. They just gradually integrated into local society."
This is not the only church to exist in the UAE, as it is a country full of expatriates from a variety of backgrounds and faiths, there are many churches and places of worship for them. With 40 churches across the UAE, 2 Hindu temples in Dubai and one Sikh temple. Abu Dhabi is currently working on building its first Hindu temple which is due to open its doors to worshippers in 2020.
2019 is marked the "Year of Tolerance" across the UAE, and is the first country to have a day that that marks the occasion of the "International Day of Tolerance" on the 16th of November every year.