Father Dereje Jimma pose for a photo in Dubai. WAM
An Ethiopian priest recalls that his first surprising experience after joining a Dubai church, a decade ago, was receiving phone calls from Muslim families employing Ethiopian female domestic workers.
"A woman on the other line would ask the prayer time and location of the church, saying she wants to drop her domestic worker at church for prayers. Being a Muslim she is not familiar with it and asks, ‘can you please tell me when I can take her back after prayers?’” reminisces Father Dereje Jimma, Administrator of St.Michael and St.Arsema Church in Dubai.
Most of those women employers are Emiratis and other Arab nationals such as Egyptians, Lebanese, Syrians and Jordanians etc. and his church still receives such calls, reveals the priest who is also the General Manager of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church in the Middle East.
Weekly off, church prayer as a blessing of an estimated 200,000 Ethiopians living in the UAE, around 50 per cent are Christians, he says. "Most of these Christians are single women, mostly domestic workers. A weekly off and an opportunity to attend church prayers are a great blessing for these women who have left their families back home,” says Father Jimma.
Of course, he says, it is a known fact that the UAE leadership is keen about progressive legislation for welfare of all employees in the country, especially domestic workers who are entitled to get a weekly off. Beginning with Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s founding father, all leaders have been advocates of religious tolerance as well, the priest points out.
"However, the real challenge is how effectively such legislations are implemented and whether such ideals of tolerance and co-existence are ingrained into the grassroot level — into the hearts and minds of the people,” he asserts. The phone calls from Muslim employers have convinced Father Jimma that the UAE has been successful in tackling these challenges. "If you visit my church during the weekend and see Muslim employers and their Christian domestic workers coming together in their car, you will also be convinced. It is a beautiful scene you can witness at any church in the UAE.” Churches across Emirates When a Christian domestic worker gets a weekly off, she spends her morning for church prayers and evening for personal and social interactions, which are essential for one’s spiritual and personal or social life, the priest says. "They are blessed to have such a privilege in the UAE.” The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church does not have own building in the UAE, but it conducts prayers in other churches in all emirates, except in Ajman. "Our first church building will come up in Abu Dhabi in near future.” He says it is the community’s dream to have own church buildings in all emirates.
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