My Visit To Dubai’s Jumeirah Mosque

Located in the concrete filled coastal residential area of Jumeriah, the mosque’s elegant ornamentation and greenery makes it stick out.

Dubai is filled with mosques.  Nevertheless, all but one of Dubai’s many mosques are closed to non-Muslims.  The beautiful Jumeirah Mosque isn’t just open to non-Muslims, the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding gives free tours of it.   After a nice visit to the Centre the previous day (highly recommended), I had to do it.

Muslims wash before praying so in Dubai you see wash stations outside mosques.  You also see bidets in bathrooms (and even hoses next to toilets) to make washing feet easier.  It makes sense to clean before entering a mosque as Muslims touch their heads and hands to the ground while praying.

Shoe’s aren’t allowed inside mosques.  I left my shoes at the door.  Although the cat in the background kept trying to sneak into the air-conditioning, cats aren’t allowed inside mosques either.

Even though it was 48 degrees Celsius (118.8 fahrenheit), I covered up as required.  I had the lady tie up my headscarf for me and swear it instantly made me feel another five degrees hotter.  You don’t realize how cooling a breeze on your neck is until its covered.  I have to admit, I wasn’t disappointed when it loosened.  As I didn’t know how to do it properly myself, this is how it ended up.

The mosque was pretty.  After seeing so many churches in the same style on our European travels, the different style and layout was refreshing to the eye.

I visited Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding the previous day, learned a bit and enjoyed the dialogue.  The “tour” was a little different.  It was more like a session aimed at educating people about the basics of the religion and dispelling common myths (all in 45 minutes).  Although the ladies who conducted the session did a good job and injected a good amount of humor into it, I didn’t enjoy it as much as lunch at the Sheik Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding.

The clock showing the times to pray that day. Muslims pray five times a day: before sunrise (where the prayer reminds people that prayer is better than sleep), noon, in the afternoon when your shadow is approximately equal to your height, just after sunset, and in the evening.

I did learn a bit (which I’m assuming is the official line) about the Emirate’s approach to Islam.  Officially, it supports a moderate interpretation of Islam.  I imagine it would be difficult to remain a global center for business if it appeared did otherwise.  Examples they mentioned in support include:

  • not rejecting the validity of other faiths when they are “of the book”
  • not forcing women to wear coverings outside of church, both women cited the practicality of wearing such garments in Dubai but said they don’t wear them in other places  (one lady said the robe would soak up all of London’s rain)
  • most Emiratis don’t have more than one wife (divorce is permitted)
  • the government distributes guidelines for religious sermons, and
  • texts of sermons are submitted for approval

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How Bazzar! Dubai’s Souks

 

A surprising amount of Dubai‘s traditional commercial activity is still conducted in traditional markets known as souks.  Dubai’s souks are chaotic labyrinths filled with energy, movement, sights and smells.  I can’t tell a lie.  In almost 50-degree heat (122 Fahrenheit), there is a little less energy and movement and a little more to smell.   As a result, the best times to see these old-style markets are during the morning and evening’s cooler hours.

Dubai has many of these atmospheric, vibrant, old-fashioned souks, each with their own specialization.  I checked quite a few of them out but didn’t buy anything.  If you do, plan on haggling.  It looked like part of the fun.

The Grand Souk Deira, a bustling textile souk, is Dubai’s oldest and busiest bazaar. Dating from the 1830’s, it contains hundreds of businesses that sell everything from cheap, good quality pashminas to exquisite fabrics to junk.  I giggled when the salesmen remembered me walking down the street earlier and many of them will try to strike up a conversation to sell to you.

On the other side of the river, the 300 stores of the Gold Souk, are filled with a dazzling array of cheap gold.  The souks are regulated by the government which ensures the quality and that items are of the purported the quality.  Silver, platinum, diamonds and other precious stones are also for sale.  By the way, if you are in the market for gold, you can also get a good deal at Dubai’s Gold & Diamond Park.

The nearby restored Spice souk sells exotic herbs, colorful spices and aromatic frankincense.  The barrels and jute sacks contribute to the atmosphere.  Not just a tourist attraction, it also sell groceries, and household goods to locals and workers on nearby dhows.

Dubai also has perfume fish and probably countless other souks that I don’t even know about.

For me as an American, it was really interesting to see so many similar business located in such proximity. Americans tend to think about things differently and prize convenience.  Therefore, in the US, you don’t usually see many districts with a singular-type business or industry that sells goods to consumers.  Businesses in the US tend to try to take advantage of proximity to the consumer.  That’s not to say that you don’t see a Home Depot near a Lowe’s.  I just mean that you don’t see 10 independent small business of the same type all in a row, let alone 50 or 100.

Enjoy the atmosphere and the unique merchandise.  Just don’t expect the souks to be untouched by globalization.  I was amazed by the large array of goods made in China that I could by at a dollar store or Asian market in Charlotte, North Carolina.

 

Dubai’s Modern Architecture

Bastakiya’s old architecture juxtaposes sharply with Dubai’s masses of jaw-dropping skyscrapers.   Queen Elizabeth opened Dubai’s first skyscraper, the 39-story Dubai World Trade Centre in 1970’s.  Now, the building is dwarfed by those nearby.  It looks like short, little me next in a crowd of NBA players.

When Dubai learned that it was running out of oil in the late 1990’s, it set about remaking itself as a business and vacation destination.  With massive infrastructure projects underway, they began building skyscrapers with adventurous designs.   At one point, they had crews working around the clock on projects.  For example, up to 13,000 workers worked day and night on the Burj Khalifa.  At times, they built a floor in as little as three days!  Someone told me that at the height of the boom, a new skyscraper was completed each week.   Dubai continued this voracious building until 2008 when the economic crisis hit.

At that time, construction on the world’s tallest building was underway.  Financing fell through.  Rather than scale down the size of the project, the president of Abu Dhabi president who’s financial bailout saved stepped in to save Dubai, and gave around 10 billion dollars to complete this futuristic building.   The tallest building in Dubai had always been known as Burj Dubai (the Dubai tower).  To thank, him for completing the structure, it was named Burj Khalifa instead.  At 828 meters (2,717 feet with 160 floors), it 
is the world’s tallest man-made structure.  Sorry, I had trouble getting it all in the shot.

The crazy, ironic (and perhaps preposterous) part is that a large part of its interior sits empty and will remain so for the foreseeable future.  At least that is what we were told by locals while there.  Can you imagine what it costs to cool?

You can visit the world’s highest observation deck there.  It was so hazy and the wind clouded the views with sand so I skipped it.  I’m guessing that on a clear day, the views are stunning.  We did get to see the The Dubai Fountain show.  It reminded us of the Bellagio’s fountain in Vegas, only bigger.  It is Dubai after all.

I’m not sure if it is pollution or sand that caused the haze. Maybe a little bit from column A and a little bit from column B.

The nearby Sheikh Zayed Road and surrounding downtown Dubai has a stunning array of futuristic skyscrapers.  Coming from Geneva where the tallest building is a 12-story hotel that is well away from downtown stories, it was a bit surreal.   The glittering Emirates Towers pair of triangular-topped modernist marvels are instantly recognizable.

Most people instantly recognize the iconic Burj Al Arab, which is shaped like the sail of a dhow with an accompanying wave-shaped hotel.  It quickly became a symbol of the booming city.  It is crazy to think that this skyscraper with a lobby is higher than the Statue of Liberty is built on an artificial island.  They immediately began marketing the heck out of it although it’s impossible to earn more than five-stars, it’s marketed as a the world’s first seven-star hotel.  Exemplifying Dubai’s insane extravagance, 1600 square meters of the interior are sheathed in gold leaf.  How do you say gaudy in Arabic?

You can see the Burj al-Arab from the nearby Arabian-style Madinat Jumeirah, a hotel, shopping and entertainment complex.  It reminded me of an Arabian themed Vegas or Orlando hotel.  On the bright side, it is more tasteful than the Hard Rock Hotel or Treasure Island.  Perinally in workout clothes, I’m probably not the best person to be an arbiter of taste anyway.

The nearby Wild Wadi water park is one of the world’s best, with over 30 rides and attractions.

Heading further out, you reach another megaproject, the palm-tree shaped Palm Jumeirah.  Viewable from space and touted as the eighth wonder of the world.   It is an astounding mock-Arabian city, replete with five 5-star hotels, astoundingly expensive “beachfront” Arabian style residences (this is where Maradona, the coach of the local football team lives), restaurants, leisure facilities and, of course, shopping.   It is another example of opulent kitsch on an epic scale.

Exiting Palm Jumeriah, you see New Dubai,centered around the vast Dubai Marina development, to your right.  It has is the city’s next Big Thing, home to a string of luxurious beachside resorts and an extraordinary number of cranes.  Glass and steel architectural wonders begin to blend together.  It’s a shame because many of the buildings have audacious designs and sleek, innovative flourishes.

I’m so glad I went to Dubai, not just because it is interesting.  The scale and the speed with which it was attained is something that I wouldn’t have been able to comprehend if I hadn’t seen it.

Fascinating Dubai

Before going to Dubai, I’d heard things like:

  • Dubai is like no other city on earth.
  • It is, or at least prior to 2008, it was the world’s fastest-growing city.
  • Dubai is Las Vegas on steroids.
  • Nobody ever went to Dubai in search of understatement.
  • It is glitzy, glamorous, spectacular and over-the-top, with more flash than class.

While the amount of consumerism there is astounding.  It is much more than that.  It is a city of contrasts with remarkable diversity.  It is futuristic and I found it fascinating.

Some of the things that fascinated me about Dubai are:

  • It is a city full of contrasts, from rich to poor, the religion and the hedonism, the large and small-scale of business, the man-made islands and the ancient trading on dhow boats both on its waters, the Orlando style buildings contrast with the imaginative skyscrapers…

  • Dubai has an incredibly rich cultural make-up.  I don’t know if I’ve been a city where I heard more languages spoken on the streets.  From its visitors to residents to influences, it has incredible ethic diversity.
  • Dubai’s shopping is a metaphor for its incredible cultural and economic diversity.  It has both designer boutiques and old-style souks.
  • A sea of skyscrapers and five-star hotels, are visible from the edge of the old town with it labyrinth-like streets and wind towers.

  • The traditional Emiratis  make up about 12% of the population and guard citizenship closely. They are typically extremely wealthy, but the town was built on the backs of a huge working-class population predominantly from the Indian subcontinent and from less prosperous areas of the Gulf.

Before the discovery of oil in the 1950’s, there was very little development in Dubai it was a fishing and trading outpost.  They didn’t even have an organized educational system.   By the 1960’s, it became a small, traditional, gulf trading center.  Thanks to petroleum money, it modernized.  It’s leader’s vision and ambition caused Dubai to remake itself and modernize differently than other states in the region.

In some ways, Dubai didn’t have a choice.  They were running out of oil.  Realizing this, Sheikh Mohammed, set about planning for the future without oil  He diversified the Dubai economy to create new employment and income streams as soon as possible .

Essentially, Dubai worked to establish itself as the regional economic hub, then a transportation hub, finance hub, tourist hub, property hub, and architectural hub.  To do this they have tackled infrastructure, water, transportation, education, culture and even religion in an incredibly strategic manner.  They spent massive amounts of money, but have accomplished the majority of their goals.  Whether you agree or not with their approach and its consequences for the workers and/or the environment, etc., what they have accomplished is impressive.