Our curiosity always pushes us to know more about the unknown, even more so when it’s forbidden. And this is quite true for me too. One of the things that I have always been curious about is – what’s inside a Parsi Fire Temple and a Mosque? While I am yet to actually see the insides of a Fire Temple (as peeping inside one from a bus does not qualify), I finally got to visit an actual mosque i.e. the Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai.
As a quick background, in 1998 the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) was set up under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoumin to raise awareness about the local culture, customs and religion of the UAE and to thereby increase cross cultural dialogue with guests. About a decade ago, under their “Open doors. Open Minds” philosophy, they opened the doors of the Jumeirah mosque to public and non-muslim guests (including women). Please note that this is the only mosque in Dubai which is open to public.
This was like a golden opportunity and there was no way that we were missing out on it. So on a bright Monday morning, we reached the mosque a little before time and decided to generally walk around it and take photographs. This light-colored mosque is intricately carved and built-in the Medieval Fatimid tradition with a capacity to accommodate around 1,200 people.
At sharp 10.00am our hostess for the day walked in and sold the tickets to all of us, post which she started the tour.
We started the tour with a demonstration by a few volunteers from the crowd on the entire ritual of wudhu / ablutions / cleaning that is done before a prayer. The ablution can be done at a sink, or with a bowl of fresh clean water and in its absence, sand can be used. Everything is done 3 times and you start with –
- Washing the hands
- Sipping water and spitting it out
- Inhaling water into the nose and blowing it out
- Washing the face with both hands
- Washing the arms up to the elbows
- Passing the hands over the head, ears and neck
- Washing the feet up to the ankles
Post this, we all proceeded towards the mosque. Inside, the mosque was one large beautifully painted room, carpeted from end to end with parallel lines. At one end of this room was a small seating space for the Maulavi, a loudspeaker and a picture of Mecca.
Our hostess then got us all seated and explained the 5 Pillars of Islam –
- Shahada – Belief – This is a declaration that they believe in only one God, Prophet Muhammad as God’s messenger. They do not believe in any other God, Idols, Supreme Being etc.
- Salat – Prayer – Muslims are supposed to offer 5 daily prayers at specific times i.e dawn, noon, afternoon, evening and night. These prayers are recited after the wudhu and facing towards Mecca. Our hostess also had one of her colleagues demonstrate the entire way to pray and explained the significance and meaning of the stances and the actual prayer.
- Zakat – Donation – Every muslim has to donate 2.5% of their net surplus wealth each year for the benefit of the poor, needy, debtors, etc. This cannot be given to their relatives unless they are in dire need. She also explained the various rules and the process followed for these donations.
- Sawm – Fasting – All muslims have to fast during the holy month of Ramadan, They must abstain from food and drinks from dawn to dusk and pray religiously. She also went on to explain the reasons for fasting and the behavior expected from Muslims during this period.
- Hajj – Pilgrimage to Mecca – Every Muslim (man and woman) has to make this pilgrimage at least once in their lives. She explained that they must dress in simple clothing of 2 white sheets and a burqa for women (this is to show equality in front of God). She then showed us a picture of Mecca and explained the various rituals that they conduct inside.
She then opened the floor for a long Q&A session. This went on for a while as everyone had numerous questions, but I am listing the 3 questions below that kind of cleared quite a few of my doubts about Islam –
1. What is inside the Kabba in Mecca?
Ans – Contrary to a lot of misconceptions, Kabba does not have the remains of Prophet Muhammad. It is a mosque built by Abraham around a black stone. Muslims believe that it was the first place to be created on earth and the place at which heavenly bliss and power touches the earth directly. They have always protected this place and the only time it was left was during the Great Floods at Noah’s time.
2. Why are women not allowed in the same section as men in a mosque? Why do women have to wear a burqa and have inferior rights then men?
Ans – Everyone stands very close (touching shoulders) in a mosque to pray, as everyone is equal in the eyes of God. Women can be a distraction to men and vice versa in this situation and hence each have their own space to pray.
According to the Quran, men and women have to both wear and behave modestly in public places. She said a burqa is worn by women for their own safety, comfort in the heat and respect. According to her, Quran does not ask women to cover their faces, but women started covering their faces in the deserts to protect themselves against sand storms, heat, etc. Today, each country has their own rules about the face attire and she showed us quite a few samples.
She also said that in Islam women are equal to men and not inferior. There are just certain duties that are given to women and certain duties that are given to men. Whatever ill happens against women are just some sad interpretations of some people and committed by some bad people.
3. Does Islam support terrorism?
Ans – Islam does not believe or approve terrorism. This is just a sad interpretation of extremists and has nothing to do with the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.
Post this session she let us take photographs inside the mosque and ask any questions one on one. Overall I felt that the session was very informative, interactive and helped me dispel at least some misconceptions about Muslims and Islam. Our hostess was the right mix of knowledge and fun, which kept the entire session light and entertaining. So whenever you are in Dubai next, a visit here is definitely recommended.
Tips for the trip –
- To visit the Jumeirah mosque, you will need to take a direct taxi / local buses. You can check their website here for directions.
- SMCCU organises these visits 6 days a week i.e. all days except Fridays from 10:00 am.
- You do not need to pre-book a tour or reserve in advance as they accommodate everyone who visits. All you have to do is arrive at the main entrance of the Mosque by 9.45am and wait for the tickets to be sold. The ticket price is AED 10 per person.
Our tour lasted for about 2 hours.
Photography is allowed inside and outside the mosque and there is no separate fee for the camera.
- There is no specific dress code but you need to be modestly dressed, even men (i.e. cover the hands and feet) else you can borrow the appropriate clothes from the mosque. Women need to cover their heads, so keep a scraf / stole for the same. Also, you will have to remove your shoes outside the mosque.