DUBAI, UAE, July 12, 2015 (BBC): There is little outward sign of any religion other than Islam in Dubai, but the city is quietly (and modestly) tolerant of other faiths. Rulers have ensured people with different beliefs have a place to worship. The UAE, of which Dubai is a part, has crippling restrictions on freedom of speech. There's widespread media censorship and dozens of activists are in jail. But it also has a little-known history of religious tolerance.
In 1958 Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, father of Dubai's current ruler, permitted a Hindu temple to be built on the roof of the souk (open-air market place). You reach it today along a lane lined with shops selling figurines of Gods and Goddesses and garlands of roses and marigolds. The only such temple in a country which now holds perhaps half a million Hindus, this little makeshift space, aromatic with sandalwood, hosts tens of thousands of worshippers each week, both Hindus and Sikhs.
Then in 1966, the year oil was discovered in Dubai, Sheikh Rashid donated a pocket of land to a Roman Catholic mission. The city has since grown up around it, and St Mary's now stands beside a busy four-lane road in central Dubai. Beside St Mary's, the Protestant church Holy Trinity stands within another high-walled compound, also built on land donated by Sheikh Rashid. There are more churches across Dubai and the UAE, including several -- and another place of worship for Sikhs -- on land donated by the current ruler, Sheikh Mohammed.