United Arab Emirates, The Catholic Church in

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The United Arab Emirates is located on the Arabian Peninsula, and is bordered on the north by the Persian Gulf, on the east by Oman, and on the southwest and west by saudi arabia. Primarily desert, the region contains a flat western coastal plain that rises to rolling desert sands, with a mountainous region shared by Oman through a yet-undefined border. Cooler in the eastern mountains, most of the region remains hot throughout the year, and sand and dust storms are frequent. Fresh water is scarce, but desalination plants provide sufficient quantities for human needs and for the production of such agricultural crops as dates, vegetables and watermelons, and livestock and poultry raising. Natural resources are limited to petroleum and natural gas.

Formed through the 1971 merger of the seven Trucial States formed during the 19th century, the United Arab Emirates includes Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Al Mughayra, Ash Shâriqah, Dubayy, Umm al Qaywayn and Ra's al Khaymah, the last joining the federation in 1972. Aayid bin Sultan al Nuhayyan, emir of the state of Abu Dhabi, was made president, with other emirs assuming significant positions within the government. Officials are chosen from among the seven emirs, which meet four times a year; the position of president and vice president are reconsidered every five years.

History . Originally part of a Sumerian trade route, the region was converted to Islam in the 6th century. Portuguese traders entered the region in the 1500s, followed by the British East India Company a century later, although no mission activity followed. The sheikdoms of the region concluded a series of treaties banning maritime warfare with Great Britain, slave trading and arms trading beginning in the 1820s, and in 1892 they agreed to British control of their external affairs in exchange for military protection. From that point on they were known as the Trucial States. Massive oil reserves were discovered near Abu Dhabi in 1958.

On Dec. 2, 1971 the region ended its relationship with Great Britain through a treaty of friendship and proclaimed independence. The federation's constitution, drafted in 1971, was formally adopted in 1996. Islam was made the official religion throughout the federation, and Sharia, Islamic law, guided the criminal and civil courts in each of the separate emirates. Unlike other Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia, the right to practice other faiths was tolerated by the state as long as such practice did not conflict with Sharia; proselytization of Muslims was forbidden and marriage between a Muslim woman and a man outside her faith was punishable by the man's imprisonment. The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church were among the few religious groups recognized by the government, which considered them a legal entity.

Since 1973, when oil exportation was initiated, the region witnessed a marked improvement in its standard of living, and the government attempted to maintain the quality of life through an open economy and the implementation of economic reforms to supplement its reliance on oil exports. The immigration of foreign workers from

Asia, Oceania and Africa to the region to work in the oil industry required that the Church provide places of worship. By 2000 the region was home to five parishes tended by three diocesan and 16 religious priests. Approximately 40 sisters aided the efforts of the Church through work in Catholic private schools, as well as in hospitals and orphanages. Christian churches and burial sites existed in many major cities, often on land donated by the local emir. Ash Shâriqah, saw the construction of a new Catholic church in 1997, and in another was under construction in Ra's al Khaymah in 2000, demonstrating an increase in the faith. Followers of the Armenian Orthodox Church and several Protestant faiths were also present and allowed to openly worship in the emirates. In 1999 the government sponsored a ecumenical meeting, "Islam and the West" in honor of a visit with British Prince Charles.

Bibliography: A Century in 30 Years: Shaykh Zayed and the United Arab Emirates, ed. j. a. kechichian (Middle East Policy Council 2000). r. said zahlan The Origins of the United Arab Emirates: A Political and Social History of the Trucial States. f. heard-bey, From Trucial States to United Arab Emirates.

[p. shelton]

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