Dubai, United Arab Emirates
At 10 am on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, Dubai's Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding sponsors tours of the Jumeirah Mosque.
The mosque, completed in 1979 near the beach in the most exclusive part of town, has twin minarets and is a small-scale replica of a Fatimid-era (909-1171) Islamic house of worship in Egypt.
But the architecture isn't really what makes the visit special. Instead, it's the way the center helps people of different faiths better understand Islam.
The guide, in traditional full-length white shirt and white head scarf, greets visitors on the big east porch, then demonstrates the washing ritual performed before entering the mosque: first hands, then mouth, nose, face, right and left arms to the elbow, full head (including inside and outside of the ears) and finally right foot, followed by left.
The visitors then leave their shoes on the porch and enter the mosque, all eggshell yellow, coral pink and baby blue, with a huge lamp hanging from the dome.
The building cannot be equated with the religion, the guide told my group. In Arabic, the word "mosque" means simply the place where a believer's forehead touches the floor during a prostration.
Muslims, he said, are called to prayer five times a day. The timing, set by the movement of the sun, changes during the year, though nowadays, five-faced digital wall clocks take this into consideration.
"Some big business guy went to China and made a million out of that," he said.
Between quips, the guide spoke movingly about his beliefs, saying that prayer gives him the chance to stand before his maker and marvel over the miracle of the world.
A question-and-answer session followed and visitors were encouraged to ask whatever they liked.
Hoping to lead him into discussing radical Islam, so different from that practiced in tolerant Dubai, I asked, "Is the religion followed differently here from other places?"
He said, "Islam is about the Five Pillars of Faith: testimony of belief, prayer, charity, fasting during Ramadan and a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. It is that simple. All the rest is culture."
For more information, contact the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, 011-971-4-353-6666, www.cultures.ae.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Dubai tour broadens insight into Islam
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