From a sea of turbans in the North of India, I find myself in the desert city of Dubai surrounded by women adorning Hijabs and full length Abayas and men in the Kandars. The crisp white was contrasting and complementing their swarthy skin tones and jet black, perfectly manicured beards. Something tells me the lumber beard trend may have started here.
I’m here in the UAE for some rest as much as I am for exploration. I’m well connected in Dubai and came to visit people rather than places. However, I can never just stop here. There is so much to see and the interesting and expansive ‘to do list ’ keeps me busy.
In the Arab world tea and coffee is staple, as I write this I am in a renowned coffee house in old Dubai – the Arab tea house – and there is tea in every direction. Even a small girl of seven or eight stirs her tea fervently, much to the irritation of her mother, who promptly removes the spoon after a minute or so of constant clanking!
Dubai houses some of the world’s finest hotels, lavish shopping centres, and the ever-impressive dancing fountains at Dubai Mall. Although I’ve seen it many times I can’t bear to be here without a quick stop by this aquatic display of beauty and music.
This time I explored the Jumeirah Mosque and scheduled my private tour of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding for my trip back here next month. What a brilliant program. We were welcomed by a very British woman adorned top to toe in black and her thick cockney accent made me smile as I was not expecting it. I am not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that!
She explained to us the run of the day, starting with the ablution. With almost 100 people in today she advised that we didn’t all have to perform this ritual however she did need eight volunteers. I’m in. I must learn at some point, so it may as well be today. Sitting with an eager crowd watching on, we were instructed by the British voice on amplify. Wash hands three times. Then drink the water three times. (Springing to mind is the Hindu rituals I have learned in Bali. What is the reason behind this magical number three?). We continued with the ritual and next we were instructed to wash the nose. She told us the proper way was to inhale the water then blow it back out our nose, but she spared us from that today (phew!). Now to wash once on the head and face and onto the arms. Three times right hand to the elbow, now left . Lastly the feet to the ankle, three times of course, and right first, then left. We were done. The crowd applauded and we spent the next 60 minutes in the mosque hearing Tracy explain the five pillars of Islam and although I am familiar with them, I like her description. This centre was created for cultural understanding and I’m amongst foreigners who were mainly westerners. She then opened the floor to any question. She reminded us that she would not be offended, that no question is a silly question and she loved to answer the tough ones.
The room opened slowly and I questioned the restrictions on non-Muslims in Mecca and Medina. Her response was a little wishy washy if I’m honest, about how busy it is at Hajj, but I chose not to challenge her on the other 360 days of the year. It is a question I will resolve on the way round. I admired her frankness on the perceived synonymous relationship between Islam and terrorism. She took a bold stance and reminded us of the deeply embedded peaceful nature of Islam and in fact of Muslims. Their dedication to the Lord and the fundamentals of human decency are shown in the pillars, especially Zakat. When she spoke of this perception and the fact of evil existing in every culture, it spoke so true to me that I am baffled that others don’t see this truth.
All in all, I highly recommend a visit to Jumeirah Mosque and/or The Sheikh Mhammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in Dubai. Both offer a warm and open place to learn the culture of not only Islam but that of the local Emirati, which is not always easy to do. It is a cause after my own heart. Where people of different backgrounds and faiths can come together and learn and grow their tolerance through knowledge and understanding. And you can pick up free literature here too if you want to continue learning. I love that.
So, As Salaam Alaikum from Dubai. Shanghai here we come.
Yours in faith,
The Unlikely Pilgrim