In a splendid example of international cultural co-operation, today (8 November) the presidents of France and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are inaugurating Louvre Abu Dhabi, whose latticed dome apparently floats over the medina of buildings that make up the museum. Inside they will see paintings of the utmost fame lent from Paris, such as La Belle Ferronnière (around 1490) by Leonardo and David’s Napoleon crossing the Alps (1803), as well as the 600 or so works that Abu Dhabi has bought since the project was agreed in 2007.

Among them are a Qur’an, a Gothic Bible and a Torah that are given equal prominence in the Gallery of Universal Religions. As you walk through the galleries, you will find other masterpieces created in the service of their various religions.

We in the West should be rejoicing at this very deliberate and prominent exhibition of ecumenical acceptance by the UAE, because elsewhere in the Middle East, the age-old cohabitation of Muslims with Christians and Jews has been destroyed in just a few years as Salafists and their violent followers, such as Islamic State, proclaimed jihad against other religions.

Louvre Abu Dhabi is consciously opposing this with its universal approach, which derives from the open-mindedness of the founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, whose views are still venerated today, 13 years after his death. One of his sayings was: “Islam rejects violence practised by terrorists who kill their brethren and commit despicable actions under the shelter of religion; Islam dissociates itself strictly from these people and their actions.” Read more