Interfaith Harmony is Possible!
And It’s Happening Before Our Eyes.
What if I were to tell you…
- A Muslim-ruling country giving land…
- To build a Hindu mandir (temple) led by a Hindu organization…
- Where the lead architect is Christian Catholic…
- The chief consultant is Chinese…
- The project director is Sikh…
- The construction company is Parsi…
- The workers are from India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal…
- And the supporters of this project are from numerous countries, faiths, and backgrounds around the world.
You might say I’m crazy. Especially in a time where unity seems out of reach and out of focus. But in the middle of a desert in the Middle East, the first traditional-stone Hindu mandir in the UAE is being built.
The BAPS Hindu Mandir in Abu Dhabi, UAE is dubbed fittingly as “a spiritual oasis for global harmony.”
This dream began back on April 5, 1997, when His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj (the 5th spiritual successor to Bhagwan Swaminarayan and leader of BAPS from 1971–2016) prophesized a grand mandir to be built.
While visiting the deserts of Sharjah, His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj prayed,
- “May peace prevail here and everywhere.
- May all religions of all countries grow greater love for one other.
- May all countries be free of internal enmity and prejudice towards each other and may they all progress in their own unique way.
- May a Mandir be built in Abu Dhabi.”
Over the next twenty years, the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, along with the help of the Indian government and other organizations, began putting his vision into fruition.
Exactly two decades later in 2017, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, gifted a 13.7-acre plot of land to build the BAPS Hindu Mandir.
In 2018, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, welcomed the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha to the Presidential Palace to announce the plans for the Hindu mandir.
In 2019, the Foundation Ceremony took place where the first stones were laid by His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj (the sixth spiritual successor to Bhagwan Swaminarayan and the leader of BAPS from 2016-present), various government leaders, community leaders, religious leaders, and the global community.
Future Effects of The Mandir
The BAPS Hindu Mandir has already been showing the effects of interfaith harmony, tolerance, and dialogue.
During His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj’s visit to the UAE in 2019, he visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the Gurunanak Darbar Sikh Gurudwara. Various community and religious leaders have praised the Hindu mandir for being a beacon of inspiration for many on how harmony should look like.
During the visit to the Grand Mosque, His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj wrote in the guestbook,
“The only way in life is to attain harmony — in family, at work, in society, in-country, within communities, and in nature, and inner nature and the Supreme God.”
Truly, this Mandir will be a showcase of all of these values of harmony.
With weekly spiritual assemblies, youth activities, classrooms, community spaces, libraries, exhibitions, etc. the mandir won’t just be a structure for prayer and peace but will be surrounded by increasing harmony within oneself, one’s family, one’s nation, and the world.
Importance of Interfaith Dialogue
The mandir’s first effect will be the opening of interfaith dialogue. This is a key aspect missing in our daily life. It is not enough for religious or community leaders to engage in dialogue, but the common person. However, this mandir will at the very least, open up a dialogue about various religions and the traditions accompanying them.
The unique aspect to the mandir is the fact that the land was gifted from the Muslim-ruing government and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi even selected a traditional style mandir that could be seen from the highway (rather than a smaller traditional mandir encompassed within a box-like structure). Another action taken by the UAE government is the creation of the Ministry of Tolerance, which greatly aided in the formation of the mandir. UAE’s example may open up other nations to being open to having a candid and respectful discussion with various faiths and communities.
Emphasis on Spiritual Wellness
A mandir is sometimes broken up into two words:
- मनस्— Mind —Mind, thought, belief
- धैर्य — Dhairya — Stability, comfort, calmness
Hence a mandir, in the words of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, is also known as, “a place of paramount peace.”
A mandir helps one feel at peace by being able to reflect and remain present through the various rituals performed routinely at the mandir. It is a place where one can go to feel connected with themselves and with the Divine. Even for non-believers, a mandir is a place to go to simply meditate, work on clearing one’s thoughts, and marvel at the art, architecture, and culture.
Spiritual wellness is something that is now widely promoted around the world. In a society with the growing need to address mental health, it is important to also show the benefits of religion and spirituality on mental health. Spirituality encourages self-reflection, self-awareness, and personal growth. The goal of spiritual wellness is not to replace mental health treatments or diagnosis, rather to prevent extreme mental health swings by creating an anchor towards positive activities and thoughts, which a mandir promotes
While the future may be uncertain, this one project will become a timeless testament to what can be achieved through harmony, tolerance, and dialogue. This is one project that will quickly garner attention from people all around the world.
The foundation has just set and the work is just beginning to create an oasis of spiritual harmony that the world will become awestruck by.