Guide to Visiting The Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi

collage - Guide to Visiting The Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi - showing church, mosque and synagogue

The Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi has caused some discussion, both positive and negative but I believe the negatives have mostly come from misperceptions. Let me share what you can expect to find there and my experience.

When someone visits such a place, they do so as a member of one of the Abrahamic faiths, of another faith or way of life altogether, or as an agnostic or atheist. Each visitor arrives with their own beliefs and knowledge, influencing their experience.

What is The Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi?

The singular noun ‘house’ has maybe been the source of some confusion locally but it’s not one structure. The House refers to the whole area and perhaps also focuses more on a concept than a physical structure.

Three independently-functioning places of worship are surrounded by a communal secular area, which includes the gardens and The Forum.

layout of Abrahamic Family House

What is the History of Abrahamic Family House and its purpose ?

The history of the Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi started in February 2019 during the visit of Pope Francis of the Catholic Church. During a meeting with Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the religious leaders signed the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, or the Abu Dhabi Declaration.

HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi at the time, ordered the creation of the interfaith project to support the Abu Dhabi Agreement and The Year of Tolerance in the UAE.

entrance to Abrahamic Family House

In simple terms, the purpose of The Abrahamic Family House is to encourage people from different religions to talk, learn about similarities, share ideas and live peacefully together.

About the Three Houses of Worship – Architecture and Design

Each house of worship is named after a significant figure in their religion and each faces a religiously relevant direction. Eminence Ahmed El-Tayeb Mosque faces Makkah, St Francis Church is oriented eastward to the rising sun, and Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue looks towards Jerusalem.

To maintain equality, the three structures are of the same size (30m²), same shape (cube) and same level of prominence. All are one colour and built using the same materials – concrete, marble and oak.

The exteriors differ in that the mosque has seven arches on each side while the church has flat, narrow columns and the synagogue has diagonal beams. The interior of each building is also different according to their respective religious practices.

Sir David Adjaye OM OBE was the mastermind behind the architectural design and every element of design references a part of each faith. Read more about his thought on of the Abrahamic Family House on his website.

Ahmed El-Tayeb Mosque

The number of arches on the mosque is seven, a significant number in Islam, while inside, there are nine vaults rising to peaks in the ceiling. Light enters through filigree latticework panels, creating patterns on the walls and floor.

Inside is very simple with a simple mihrab (niche facing Makkah) and minbar, where the imam delivers his sermon.

Outside are open male and female ablution areas. (There is also an indoor ablution area.) A partition and separate door provide a section for ladies to pray in privacy. The mosque can accommodate 322 worshippers.

St Francis Church

The narrow columns on the exterior of the church symbolise rays of light. The baptistry is outside and contains a large circular font in an octagonal room.

Inside, the prominent feature is the timber slats cascading down from the ceiling, representing an ecstatic redemptive shower. Other elements are a marble altar, a statue of Mary and a simple crucifix.

Although it is named St Frances, it is intended for multi-denominational use and can seat 300 people.

See also Churches in Sharjah on my sister website.

Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue

The V-shaped columns of the synagogue represent the criss-crossed palm leaves at the traditional festival. This pattern continues inside various elements, such as the wooden seating.

The interior includes bronze mesh around the sides, representing the Sukkah, a tent-like structure. If you look up, you’ll see a distinctive skylight inspired by the chuppah, a feature of Jewish weddings. In the centre is a mikvah, a bath used for ritual washing.

The synagogue can seat 200 people.

Abrahamic Family House Garden

The communal area includes rooftop gardens above The Forum and elevated above the bases of the houses of worship. The garden is simple and a place of reflection.

It is accessible by stairs or elevators. From here you have a good view of all three buildings and it’s an excellent spot to take photos.

Abrahamic Family House Garden with the church and synagogue in the background

The Forum at The Abrahamic Family House

Within The Forum is the exhibition, a gift shop, a small library, a cafe, a water feature and the Foundation Stone.

The stone was signed by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, President of the UAE, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Pope Francis, Head of the Catholic Church and Dr Ahmed El-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar Mosque.

foundation stone at Abrahamic Family House

The exhibition area has four halls with images and videos projected on various surfaces. They show the different practices of the religions, for example, upon the birth of a baby, and also shared or similar practices.

Having visited several religious museums in Europe, what I felt was lacking was more information about each faith. If I didn’t already have knowledge of other religions, I’m not sure I would have left knowing much more about the other faiths.

While the projections were immersive and interesting, further explanation on information boards would have been helpful and the knowledge gained by visitors would help achieve the objective of the Abrahamic Family project. Having said all that, I enjoyed the exhibition and it was also quite a calming experience.

Similarly, display boards in The Forum explaining the principles of the design of the three buildings and the choices for the different elements would have been helpful. Although this is explained in the tours, this isn’t the best way for everyone to digest information.

At the end of the exhibition is a large display of triangles entitled ‘My Intention’. Here, you can share your reflections, wishes or thoughts. Many of the messages hoped for world peace and better understanding between people.

How do I visit The Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi

Anyone is welcome to visit Abrahamic Family House. According to the website, you need to book a slot in advance. However, I forgot, and we just turned up. It was a cloudy Sunday and it wasn’t very busy and nobody asked for our booking.

The visiting times are Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm but, of course, it’s open daily for those coming to worship.

display at the Forum Abrahamic Family House

You can take a guided tour at Abrahamic Family House or wander around yourself. You need to pre-book for the tour. You may be able to join a tour as a walk-in but there’s no guarantee. Book online here.

Keep in mind that you won’t be able to enter any of the houses while prayers, sermons or services are taking place unless you are a worshipper.

We didn’t take the tour but the website states it’s approximately an hour long. You can choose English or Arabic. We heard snippets of the tour, and they explained the various parts of each place of worship and some of the religious principles.

water feature at Abrahamic Family House

If you don’t have much knowledge of all the three Abrahamic religions, I recommend taking the tour to get the full benefit of your visit. The guides also explain the relevance of the various design features to each religion.

The venue is wheelchair-friendly but if you need to borrow one, it’s recommended to arrange this in advance.

How much does it cost to go to the Abrahamic Family House?

Entrance to the Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi is free of charge.

What is the dress code for the Abrahamic Family House?

According to the Abrahamic Family House website, men and women are requested to cover from the neck to the ankles, and ladies are asked to wear a scarf. Also, no clothing with pictures or slogans that may be offensive to any faith is allowed.

Don’t worry if you don’t have anything suitable as you can borrow a gown at the Cloakroom in The Forum. There is no charge for this.

Location: Saadiyat Cultural District, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi

If you’re planning a trip to Abu Dhabi to visit the sights, Saadiyat Island is a great location to stay and home to the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Manarat. Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel & Villas is the perfect place to stay and make the most of your trip.
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Activities at The Abrahamic Family House Abu Dhabi

As well as regular religious services, each houses hosts activities such as youth groups and classes. Communal events like book clubs, classes and discussions also take place. Check their website for more details.

Conclusion – Is The Abrahamic Family House Worth Visiting?

I had done a bit of reading before my visit but still wasn’t sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised and glad that I went, so yes, I definitely think the Abrahamic Family House is worth visiting!

This is especially so if you are interested in architecture as it’s fascinating how the elements of faith have been referenced in the exterior and interior design. You need to take the tour to fully grasp this though or do a lot of reading as I did.

arches at ahmed el tayeb mosque abu dhabi

While I would have liked to see more information on each faith to help others learn and support interfaith understanding, it was still informative and highlighted the similarities between the three religions.

I felt an overall sense of peace while there and I can see that it provides an excellent venue for interfaith dialogue or a general coming together of faiths.

To sum up, I recommend adding this to your Abu Dhabi itinerary and hope this guide to visiting the Abrahamic Family House helps you get the most out of it!

If you liked this, you might also like Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque or Qasr Al Watan.

What else to visit near the Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi:

  • Louvre Abu Dhabi
  • Manarat Abu Dhabi
  • Soul Beach

Coming soon in Saadiyat Island – Guggenheim Musuem, Zayed National Museum and Natural History Museum.