As excited as I am about the festive season, I’m very much aware that for many of people living here, ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ is just another day in Dubai. Shamefully, after nine months in the UAE, I still know very little about the culture of my adopted home – less, in fact, than a friend who came here for a flying visit a month ago. The difference? He was a brief visitor, keen to get as much of a flavour of the place as he could in the little time he had. In a bid to catch up, I crawled out of bed one Saturday morning and hailed a taxi to Jumeirah Mosque.
Joining a gaggle of tourists from all over the world, I paid the princely fee of Dhs10 and gathered around our guide. Following a brief explanation of Islamic pre-prayer preparations, we shook off our shoes and entered the mosque itself. There followed a good hour’s talk about every facet of the Islamic faith, from the importance of Mecca, right down to mosque design. (Those domes? Just pre-electricity amplifiers, it turns out.) Every sentence seemed to bring a new, fascinating fact to light.
There was, however, a melancholy edge to the talk and it soon became apparent that there was a subtext to what was being said: the nature of Islam itself. Our guide felt that many of those visiting from abroad might have been misled by the media into regarding Islam as a cover for terrorism rather than the historically rich religion it is and has been for many years. It’s a thorny issue, and sad that here, in place so clearly devoted to worship, it had to be spelled out in this way. But even while it might say something damning about the way that different cultures regard each other, to be here learning first-hand about the practices of a faith that I had previously known so little about felt like some small step in the right direction.
For me, ultimately, the biggest revelation of the day was that I – and many of my fellow expat residents – really don’t know all that much about Islam or the day-to-day lives of our fellow Dubai dwellers. Frankly, it made me feel a little ashamed to have waited this long to visit, and very grateful to have finally done so. James Wilkinson. Tours begin at 10am outside Jumeirah Mosque on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Conservative dress advised. Dhs10. No booking required.
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