The United Arab Emirates on March 1 inaugurated the “Abrahamic Family House,” an interfaith complex housing a mosque, a church, and the Gulf Arab state’s first ever purpose-built synagogue.
Designed by renowned Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye, the project incorporates several architectural styles traditionally found in mosques, churches and synagogues around the world.
The Imam Al-Tayeb Mosque, which is named after the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, the leading authority on Sunni Islam, is oriented towards Mecca. Its windows are made of delicate latticework, called mashrabiya, and are designed to allow for the circulation of air while regulating light and maintaining privacy.
“What you’re going to see in all the projects is that it’s always about a filtering of light, a splitting of light,” Adjaye told CNN’s Becky Anderson.
“In the Mosque… the light surrounds you until you get to the silence and the stoicness of facing Mecca,” he said.
His Holiness Francis Church is dedicated to the 13th century monk St. Francis of Assisi, after whom the current Catholic pope is named. It is oriented towards the rising sun in the east. The ceiling is made of timber and is meant to invoke the biblical and Quranic story of Noah’s Ark.
In the church, “you hear the sound of rushing water,” said Adjaye. “For me, water is so important with Christianity. The church is an ark in the world.”
The Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue honors the 12th century Jewish philosopher known as Rabbi Maimonides. The scholar was also a medical doctor who led the Mediterranean Jewish world and whose patients included Saladin, the Muslim ruler of Egypt and Syria.
The synagogue is the UAE’s first purpose-built Jewish place of worship and, like most synagogues around the world, is oriented towards Jerusalem. It is inspired by the Jewish festival of the Sukkot, which is celebrated by building temporary shelters. An oculus in the ceiling of the space lets direct light come inside.
“The light of the mid-day kisses the rabbi in the center very directly,” Adjaye said.
The Jewish community in the UAE had previously used makeshift synagogues.
While entirely unique, each individual building is a 30-meter (98 feet) by 30-meter cube. The unifying design is meant to provide a common base from which tolerance and understanding can be promoted, Adjaye said.