By Bob Feferman
On November 10th, Partnership2Gether communities from across the globe were privileged to participate in an intimate conversation with four citizens of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). The special event was moderated by Dan Feferman and Benny Scholder, co-hosts of the Jewanced podcast. For nearly two and a half hours, this amazing experience provided the audience with fascinating insights into a unique culture, and gave us hope for the future of Israel and its relations with the wider Middle East.
The eye-opening conversation definitely challenged any assumptions that we, the viewers, had about traditional Arab views on a wide variety of topics, from Israel to the role of women in society. That is because the U.A.E. is a much different place, and so are its people.
The first part of the conversation focused on the lifestyle of the Emiratis.
As a country that enjoys tremendous wealth, Emiratis enjoy a generous social welfare system. However, the guests made it clear that they work hard for what they have.
Norah Alawadhi said: “There is a misconception about locals, that we have money trees, or oil money.” Norah reminded the viewers, “We work really really hard. In each household, we’re striving to have businesses of our own.”
It was also fascinating to learn about a people who take great pride in their Bedouin roots and traditions while feeling very comfortable with modernity.
Ahmed Al Mansoori said: “The lifestyle here is very much cosmopolitan… but we still stick to our roots. We like to go on camping trips. We like our farms. We like our camels. It’s more family-oriented than many other cultures.”
In spite of its vast wealth, the Bedouin roots of the U.A.E. give Emiratis a certain sense of humility. Thani Al Shirawi said: “The royal family here, they’re very humble and very approachable. You might bump into them at the shopping centers. And don’t be surprised if you see them in restaurants without a lot of security.”
Indeed, the U.A.E. is different from so much of the Middle East.
Dan Feferman, who had recently returned from a visit to Dubai, said that he was surprised to find, “… a very modernized, moderate and accepting version of Islam among the many people that I met in the U.A.E.”
The responses that Dan received from the guests validated his impressions.
Ahmed Al Mansoori said, “For me, I don’t think it’s a modernized version of Islam, I think it’s THE Islam. I think it was hijacked by these extremists… When you came here you met real Muslims.”
Thani Al Shirawi said, “The word Islam means peace. It’s for us to live in peace… Being an Emirati in the U.A.E., nobody tried to convert me to fundamentalism…I was taught a moderate Islam.”
There is no doubt that the leadership of the U.A.E. is the guiding force behind this moderate world view.
May Albadi told viewers, “Sheik Muhamad Bin Zayad, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, ordered the construction of a building dedicated to interfaith harmony. That facility will be called the Abrahamic Family House… It will have a church, a mosque and a synagogue next to each other.” (Just like in P2G's own Omaha, NB!)
And finally, in regard to the Abraham Accords, the historic peace treaty between Israel and the U.A.E, the four Emiratis were very proud of their country.
Norah Alawadhi exemplifies this pride. She became famous for the iconic photo that went viral on social media that featured her and a young Israeli wearing the flags of Israel and the U.A.E. looking at the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, with the Dubai skyline as the background.
Norah said, “Peace starts with the politicians, and continues with the youth.”
There is no doubt that unlike the peace treaties that Israel has with Egypt and Jordan, it is thanks to the Emiratis that the Abraham Accords will be a much different peace, a much warmer peace, that can serve as a model for coexistence throughout the wider Middle East.
Bob Feferman is Community Relations Director of the Jewish Federation of St. Joseph Valley in South Bend, Indiana