Faith

This Muslim Country Rolls Out the Red Carpet for Easter

While Christians in some parts of the Middle East are being driven out of their ancestral lands and killed for their faith, one Gulf nation is trying to make Easter colorful for its Christian expat community.

Islam is the official religion in the United Arab Emirates, and apostasy is officially a crime. But the country that thinks “go big or go home” for every other holiday isn’t about to miss out on the season of bunnies and Peeps.

About 9 percent of the UAE’s population is Christian, according to the CIA World Factbook. A little over three-quarters of its people are Muslim, with religious minorities including Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Druze, Jewish and more comprising the balance.

Dubai festively decks out its malls for Christmas, and in 2010 the Emirates Palace hotel displayed the world’s priciest Christmas tree dripping in $11 million worth of baubles.

Gulf News reports that, like Christmas trees sell well each year in the UAE, Easter treats are similarly flying off the shelves:

Rustom Wadia, managing director of the 26-year-old shop, said the eggs are made of almond paste and sugar and then shaped into beautiful eggs with different bright colours. The bakery also makes pure chocolate eggs, which are then filled with goodies, chocolates and candies for children.

“Our customers have been mostly Indian, European and American. Last year, we sold over 1,000 eggs to customers who love buying them for their children.”

Popular more among the Arabs is Al Baba Sweets, which has become known for selling traditional Lebanese Maamoul with various fillings made for the occasion and also Belgian chocolate Easter eggs.

“On Easter, we sell an average of 350kg of Maamoul and 80kg of chocolate eggs and the numbers keep increasing every year. Customers also make some extra preparations ahead of time for this special occasion so they can celebrate with their relatives and loved ones,” she said.

The paper also published a list of Easter church times for residents, with services in Arabic, English, Malayalam (an Indian language), Tagalog, Urdu, and Tamil.

Another UAE newspaper, The National, highlighted the best Easter brunches in the country that offer far more than waffles and omelets.

For example, the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi will be serving up black Angus rib-eye, rotisserie whole chickens and traditional Yorkshire pudding along with an Easter egg hunt and a visit from the Easter bunny. Some offer a picnic brunch — the Yas Viceroy in Abu Dhabi is serving its Easter brunch on a verdant lawn under palm trees with several meats on the barbecue and a dessert station. The Four Seasons Dubai is celebrating Easter with Atlantic lobster, roasted Irish spring lamb, and a foie gras station.

One company offers an overnight Easter desert safari with dinner, dune bashing and all the classic Easter goodies.

Aid to the Church in Need recently noted that “while Christians are being persecuted and forced to renounce their faith throughout the region, Christianity flourishes in UAE.”

Ten years ago there were 24 churches in the UAE, but that has grown to 40 churches, ACN noted, serving Christian residents and temporary foreign workers.

“A major factor in the growth of Christian churches in the UAE is the peaceful co-existence of Muslims and Christians in the region,” ACN continued. “Although Christians are a small minority, they receive wide support from the emirates’ rulers who often donate land and waive water and electric bills for the churches. The UAE authorities are also implementing extra security measures to make sure that no churches are attacked as they are keen to ensure the safety of foreigners who live and work in the emirates.”