To me, the Abrahamic Family House symbolizes what I love most about the UAE.
Now open to both worshippers and visitors, the magnificent interfaith complex is located a 10-minute walk from the Louvre Abu Dhabi, right in the heart of Saadiyat Island’s Cultural District.
Entrance is free, but you must book a time slot online. Tours are complimentary during the first few weeks of March, and after that they will incur a small charge.
Women are asked to cover their heads inside the mosque, and abayas and scarves are provided free of charge. Visitors are not allowed to enter any of the houses while people are praying, and services are held in each different community throughout the week.
The vision of Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye realized, the Abrahamic Family House is both simple yet elegant, and modern yet steeped in tradition.
Built out of neutral tones and natural stones, the experience begins in the welcome center, where there’s a café, souvenir shop and small library of religious texts. Here you can also see the foundation stone of the Abrahamic Family House. Designed to encourage tolerance, understanding and open dialogue, the initiative was inaugurated by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Present of the UAE, His Holiness Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayeb, back in 2019.
Tours run several times an hour, with each one led by an Emirati guide. My guide Sara had an incredible knowledge of all three religions, and she really enhanced my experience.
In fact, all the staff were so friendly and helpful and, despite the large tour bus groups that were trickling in, the entire space maintained an air of peace and calm.
Sir David purposely built each space to be of the same size and stature. There is no sense of hierarchy or any implication that one religion is more important than the other, and the elements of light and water run throughout each one. All three houses are equally impressive, and I honestly couldn’t say which is my favorite.
The church faces the rising sun, the synagogue faces Jerusalem, and the mosque faces Mecca. The architecture of each space highlights the values and rituals of its religion, while still being intentionally welcoming to those of other faiths.
Having travelled across Europe extensively, I’ve been to more spectacular churches than I could possibly count. However, I have never seen anything like His Holiness Francis Church.
Lined with towering pillars, the natural light that streams in is intended to illustrate the light of God. Dramatic wooden battens cover the ceiling to mirror Jesus’ ascension and descension, and it’s a humbling space that almost takes your breath away. Even the stone altar has a crack running through it to show the power of Jesus’ words.
Meanwhile, the mesmerizing synagogue is hung with material to illustrate that it provides the same shelter as Abraham’s tent, and the wondrous mosque is covered with 470 hand carved panels, adorned with stunning lattice work that pays homage to the features of traditional mosques, and filled with an ethereal golden light.
The elevated forum then lets you get a glimpse of all three houses at once. Scattered with pomegranate, lemon and orange trees, this tranquil outdoor area is a place where everyone can mingle and converse. Sara explains that it is meant to be almost like the Garden of Eden.
Once the construction of the rest of the Cultural District has been completed, the views will be spectacular, too.
Finally, the exhibition uses the power of film (there are no written displays) to showcase the similarities between the three faiths. As you leave, you are asked to write down an intention and add it to the wall of wishes from visitors from across the world. This adds a moving and powerful conclusion to the experience.
It was also poignant that my tour group included a Jewish family from Israel, several Emiratis and myself, who could perhaps best be described as a ‘casual’ Christian.
Whether you are deeply religious, atheist or unsure where you stand when it comes to religion, you can’t fail to be moved by the extraordinary symbolism, beauty and magic of the Abrahamic Family House.
Most of all, it makes you extremely proud to live somewhere as inclusive and open as the UAE.
• Open daily. Tours are available Tuesday to Saturday in Arabic and English. Visit abrahamicfamilyhouse.ae.
Harriet Shephard is an Abu Dhabi-based copywriter and freelance journalist with a particular focus on fitness, travel and lifestyle, which, along with good food, also happen to be her main passions when she's not typing away at her laptop.