Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why I Love Ramadan: Opening Hearts, Opening Minds

The beautiful centre
Last night I fulfilled a long-held Ramadan ambition when I made it to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) for one of their wonderful educational and social iftars.  SMCCU has long been one of my favourite places in Dubai, and I'm sad when people say they haven't heard of it, or that they don't know what it's all about or where it is. It's a truly beautiful place which aims to bring down barriers and misconceptions about Islam and culture here in the UAE.

In my opinion it should  be in the diary of every expat's first month in Dubai, no excuses.  They have regular breakfasts and lunches where you get to sit and chat with locals and ask any questions you like. It was the highlight of my parents' last trip!

The iftar was just as relaxed and interesting as the breakfast.  We arrived at Maghreb prayers, were greeted by the lovely Nasif and his team, and settled down for food and chat. 

Emirati food is an interesting experience, and not easily found in Dubai - most restaurants serve Lebanese or Arabic food but not Emirati.  We tried Harees - wheat mixed to a paste and combined with meat, usually only cooked at weddings and during Ramadan.  There were also some rice based dishes which took their inspiration from India. 

We'd (obviously) prepared some questions beforehand and were joined by one of the many Emirati volunteers who was happy to chat about anything and everything under the sun.  Our lovely volunteer (Mohammed, aircraft engineer, works for Emirates) happily answered questions about residency for ex-pats, the development of Dubai, his views on tourists dressing like hookers (no, really!) and gave us some great insights into his life and views on the world.

Done with the first course, we headed to the nearby mosque.  Despite the oppressive heat and humidity, a walk through Bastakiya at night is a truly magical experience.  The alleyways and windtowers glow in the moonlight, the breeze (such as it was) wafted through the narrow streets, with call to prayers and sounds from the creek in the background.  Once inside the mosque, Nasif explained lots about Islam and prayer.  It was honestly one of the most moving experiences of my life and I could barely look at A for fear of blubbing!  Then back to the centre for dessert and more q and a's. 

There was a great mix of nationalities, ages, families, children and despite some of the really stupid questions (my favourite: "are you a local then" to a man wearing a kandoora) it was a great night.  And to be fair, it's getting the stupid questions asked and answered that changes the misperceptions that we encounter every day.  I always enjoy my visits to the centre and can't wait to go there again.  You may still have time to book into one of their iftars if you call them today!

1 comment:

Mrs Dubai said...

The authentic Dubai makes my heart sing with joy. It's such a shame most people never discover it.