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Dubai Demystified

Everything you didn't expect in a Muslim country

The Signature Emirates plane in the Miracle Garden in Dubai

As we approach the anniversary of that blatant idea called the Trump Travel Ban, which prohibited travel by citizens of a select few Muslim countries from entering USA, it is worth looking at what we, from the USA can achieve as travel goals for our own selves, particularly if we are interested in raising kids who are aware global citizens.

If you have lived on a far away island for too long, it is natural that your understanding of the world outside is based on second hand experiences, and on narrations that may be motivated by reasons other than knowledge. And thus, if you are an American who has relied on popular media, and on national leadership to inform your world view, you clearly have seen only a partial glimpse of the whole world out there. Most importantly if you have always lived, and visited only, Western democracies, it is understandable that you imagine the Muslim world to be full of the ‘undeveloped’ living in war-torn or about-to-erupt-into-war situations, wreaking havoc on women and the non-Muslims, and of course constantly contemplating the destruction of USA. This narcissistic mentality fortunately, has an antidote. We do not have to continue living all our lives on the island. We can, when possible, travel, and allow ourselves to immerse, albeit briefly, into a new local milieu, as and when needed.

Dubai, for the untraveled American, would be a great starting point. Dubai, located at the southeastern corner of the Persian Gulf, (in Asia) is that tiny kingdom, which is best known for Duty Free Shopping. The real surprises, however, come in the realization that you are in a Muslim country, and yet you have continued wearing your sleeveless shirt, and denim shorts, and flip flops, carrying a beach bag, with your pink polka dot swimsuit in it. Yes, you realized that no one asked you to, nor you felt the need to, change into any head to toe covering. In Dubai, you are just as welcome, just the way you are, as you might be anywhere else.

As a Western tourist in an Arabic country at least a couple of things will stand out like no place else. You can wear what you want. You can eat what you want. You can drink what you want, whenever you want. You can smoke cigarettes, and hookahs galore. You can buy from the fanciest fashionable goods, to ethnic road side fares. You can travel by local mass transit, or rent a car, or cab it all around. The dollar goes thrice the amount anywhere, and so can you, in just that many days, because Dubai luckily is not a big city. It is a small emirate-a small kingdom that is ruled by an Emir or the King. However, despite being small in size, it is a ‘big time’ happening city, complete with beautiful public beaches, manicured gardens, mosques with details of the signature Arabic architecture, the mighty Burj Khalifa of course (the world’s tallest building), plush malls, daring dune bashing desert safaris, fascinating camel rides, fully furnished apartment high rises available for short rentals, and of course a night life, that could easily be the envy of any major Western city. Why? Because, the desert nights here are truly vibrant, and amazingly so both with, and without, alcohol. While the bars and night clubs beckon with tantalizing music and mindboggling beverage variety, the innumerable Tea cafes —-yes cafes that actually specialize in selling exotically flavored tea stay open way past midnight, as locals and foreigners alike congregate here for endless rounds of talks over tea! A nocturnal culture like this can only be sustained if there is adequate sense of law and security. And indeed, that would be the most remarkable thing about this place. It is spotlessly safe, without armed security force visible at all points. Locals confess that it is the fear of consequences that keeps everyone at check. Consequences for most offences will start from an unconditional revoking of visa to Dubai. For a city made up of approximately 71% expatriates, majority from developing countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Somalia, and working in all sorts of menial to big jobs, the fear of the loss of a job itself is enough to keep most inhabitants of the city restrained.

You might be tempted to ask that if Dubai is truly so cosmopolitan, why should it even be called a Muslim city? Because, the citizens of the country of UAE, of which Dubai is a part, are 100% Muslim. Because, Sunday is just another working day, while Friday (the week’s day of the big prayers) is the official day off. Because ‘halal’ meat is more commonly available than a McDonald’s burger. Because prayer rooms are available in every public space for the ritualistic five daily prayers observed by the Muslims. Because month long Ramadan celebrations are so natural to the city that the expectation of waterless fasting, at least in public, from dawn to dusk applies to everyone physically present in Dubai at that time, Muslim or not!

And last but not the least, Dubai is a Muslim country because Arabic men and women in their respective white and black gowns, and head gears, roam about everywhere, in numbers, and with ease that is truly eye opening for us first timers. It is uniquely gladdening to see these Arabs buying Lego sets for their kids who in turn look just as adorable, and annoying, as any other kids in the world, or to see an Arab man sit down to drink a Starbucks Frappucino, or to see an Arab woman shop for a fancy blouse at an H&M store, and to see female taxi drivers, in pink head scarves maneuver their large taxis with accuracy and confidence through highways.

Now, when was the last time we saw a picture of a non-gun-toting Arab, or of one without an allusion to the word ‘terrorist’? And this is where, I recommend a doze of Dubai for all us. Because, one huge perception that needs correction is about the linkage between Islam and terrorism. Yes, many terrorists are Muslims, but not all Muslims are terrorists, nor all terrorists are Muslims. In Dubai we get to savor Islam with fellow Muslims practicing that one common religion of the world-Life, in all its beauty.

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