10 to try: Cultural activities

Get into the spirit of the Holy Month with these fulfilling activities


You’ll hear people talk about the ‘spirit’ of Ramadan, but what exactly does this mean to the average Dubaian? For the devout it’s a time of contemplation, steadfast discipline and prayer. For others, it’s a chance to simply detox and start afresh. But for everyone, it’s a great time to reacquaint ourselves with a city and a culture that’s too often lost amid the shining skyscrapers, five-star hotels and abundant opulence. As such, we look at 10 great things for you to do over the Holy Month to better acquaint yourself with Ramadan in the context of Dubai.

1 Understand Islam
Ramadan is a time of reflection and it makes sense to use the next few weeks to acquaint yourself with the beliefs, ideals, and values that are intrinsic to Islam and indeed Dubai (Dubai is, after all, a city state that is founded on and ruled by Islamic values). We’d recommend starting with George Negus’s insightful commentary in his book The World from Islam (available on www.amazon.com), but there’s also plenty
of accessible and informative websites online. Start with www.understanding-islam.com.

2 Learn Arabic
Since the UAE’s expatriate population far exceeds its indigenous population, it’s sometimes easy to forget we are living in the heart of the Middle East. With this in mind, it makes a great deal of sense to learn the local lingo. The aptly named Arabic Language Centre offers group and private lessons for beginners and advanced Arabic speakers alike. Meanwhile, the Eton Institute is offering free classes over Ramadan. See page 11 for more details.
Arabic Language Centre, World Trade Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.dubailanguages.com (04 331 5600), www.eton.ae.

3 Watch the firing of the cannon
The firing of the cannon before the breaking of the fast is an important Ramadan tradition here in Dubai. Though the practice began in neighbouring emirate Sharjah in 1803, it was adopted by Dubai in 1912 when the imams were instructed not to call for iftar until they heard the firing of the cannon. The tradition is preserved today, attracting a sizeable crowd – the event is the nearest Dubai has to the changing of the guards. There are a number of cannons placed around the city to announce iftar, namely Al Musalla, Al Ras area, Karama Musalla and Al Safa Park.
The Dubai Police are in charge of firing the cannon before iftar. For more info, call 04 269 2222 or email mail@dubaipolice.gov.ae.

4 Buy an Al Noor Greeting Card
They say a picture paints a thousand words, and this couldn’t be truer of the images adorning Al Noor’s new 2011-2012 Greeting Cards, which have been designed by students of this special needs school. The cards, which depict traditional Ramadan and Eid imagery, epitomise the innocence and the artistry of the Holy Month, as well as the season’s charitable sentiment.
Al Noor Training Centre, www.alnoorspneeds.com (04 340 4844, 04 323 4993).

5 See the call to prayer at Jumeirah Mosque
There’s nothing that captures the spiritual side of Ramadan quite like the spellbinding sound of the call to prayer at Jumeirah Mosque. We recommend getting an early start to the day and heading down for 5am. Only muslims may pray, but all are welcome to view the spectacle of the congregation spilling outside onto the garden.
Jumeirah Beach Road, Jumeirah (04 353 6666).

6 Better acquaint yourself with UAE art
If ever there were a time to embrace the UAE’s creative side, it’s Ramadan. As such, we suggest heading to Sharjah to the Al Maraya Art Centre, which houses one of the most impressive single collections of Arab artwork. For an art-fix closer to home, see the special Ramadan exhibition at Artspace in DIFC featuring artists Omar El-Nagdi an Egyptian sculptor and musician; Iraqi painter Alaa Ismail; Palestinian author and abstract artist Kamal Boullata and Lebanese painter, sculptor and printmaker Hussein Madi.
Al Maraya Art Centre, Al Qasba, Sharjah, (06 556 6555); Artspace, DIFC, Dubai (04 323 0820).

7 Take a camel ride into the desert
There’s an element of cliché to riding a camel through the desert, but it’s actually a great insight into the Bedouin culture that preceded the oil-rich UAE that we know today. What’s more, mastering the belligerent beast is half the fun. Desert Safari Dubai offers camel treks throughout Ramadan, and they provide both pick-up and drop-off services.
Dhs400, Dhs280 (kids). 4pm-9.30pm. To book, call 055 268 0498 or go to www.desertsafarisdubai.net.

8 Falconry
The combination of being in breathtaking desert scenery and the age-old tradition of mastering a magnificent bird makes for quite an incredible experience. And while it may not be the most traditional pastime in the context of Ramadan, it does provide a wonderful insight into Emirati culture.
Dhs225 (for a 90-minute lesson). To book a session, call 04 435 6550 or check out www.shaheenxtreme.com.

9 Fasting
The act of fasting, in any culture or religion, is a test of self-discipline and a time of self-reflection. As such, fasting can be an exceedingly rewarding endeavour. We recommend fasting for one day – whatever your religious orientation – to help you better understand the culture and customs of the region in which you are living. Be sure to eat well before sunrise (try a traditional suhoor), eat a healthy and balanced dinner in the early evening (after maghrib, or ‘evening prayer’), and try not to gorge yourself at iftar.

10 Interpret the Quran from a female perspective
Head down to this unique female-only lecture, which takes place on Sunday August 7. Al Huda Centre, in association with Dubai Ladies’ Club, will present a Quran interpretation session, entitled: ‘Jewels from the Quran and How to Discover Them’. You’re sure to leave with a different perspective on the Holy Book.
Free. 9pm-11pm. Dubai Ladies Club, info@dubailadiesclub.com (04 349 9922).

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