Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Father Abraham Had Many Sons....

Many sons had Father Abraham.  Now that I have taken many of you back to your childhood Sunday school class, and you're singing this chorus in your head, let me explain why this song comes to my mind all the time over here.  I have been asked on several occasions over the past 11 months what it is like to live in a predominately Muslim country.  There have been questions about religious freedoms and if I have to keep my head covered etc.  So, what is it like?

For starters, going back to the Father Abraham song, Islam like Christianity is an Abrahamic faith. Muslims refer to Jews and Christians as "People of the Book", because we all worship the God that revealed himself to Abraham.  Jewish people refer to him as Yahweh, to Muslims he is Allah, and to Christians, like myself, he is God.  To put it in simple terms from the lips of my Indonesian friend who is a Muslim "your God, my God, same God".  I am not naive, and I know that there are differences between Muslims and Christians, but I bet there are a lot of Christians that don't know the similarities.  Muslims believe in Jesus and his virgin birth.  Maryam, the Arabic name for Mary, is a very popular name for girls here, because the Virgin Mary is considered to be a righteous woman that is mentioned more times in the Quran than she is in the New Testament with a chapter even bearing her name.  Now this may be a shocker, but the belief in Jesus as a messenger of God is a requirement in Islam.  His name appears 25 times more often than Muhammad in the Quran.  There are several other similarities that would shock most that have not educated themselves on the subject, but I will leave that for self study.  I just wanted to start with the point that people aren't always as different from us as we may think they are.   Most Muslims do not fall under the category of radical extremist set on killing every infidel Christian in sight, just like most Christians don't fall into the category of Quran burning abortion clinic bombers.  Father Abraham had many sons.......

So, here are the answers to some of the many questions I get.  NO, I do not have to cover my head or face.  NO, I do not have to wear an abaya and shayla, unless I am touring a mosque.  Not all Muslim women choose to wear the abaya here, and most like me dress according to the fashion of their home country (within certain modesty limits).  Fashion will have to be a whole other topic for another day.  So, on to the rest of my answers.

Yes, there are churches here, and you can go to services in several different languages on Fridays, not Sundays. Fridays are the Holy day here for Muslims and Christians, and Sunday is a work/school day.   There are Bible studies, youth groups, and they even have an AWANA program here.  Oh and another shocker, the UAE is one of the few places in the Middle East that has a Gideons Ministry.  Most of the churches here are built on land that was donated by the UAE royal families.  The biggest difference is you don't see a large variety of denominations here, and churches are few compared to the number of mosques that are here.  It's basically the opposite of what you would see in America, but I can honestly say I don't think I've ever seen a mosque in the area I'm from back in the states.

We pray here just like we do in the states rather it be in public or private.  It's ok if we pray before our meal if we're at a restaurant, no one scolds us or says anything to us.  Yes, we hear the Muslim call to prayer quite often and it is not uncommon to see buses of workers pull off the road to pray.  There are even mini mosques at all the gas stations.  My son has started critiquing the muezzins(prayer callers) for the different local mosques. Keep in mind, these prayer calls are blasted on loud PA systems, so you can hear them for blocks.  If the muezzin has a bad voice, listening to it for several minutes can be tough.  The call to prayer is even played at the malls, and there are special prayer rooms at the malls for men and women to go pray.  Oh, and it is not uncommon to see a woman in the bathroom with her feet in the sink washing for ablution before prayer.  I just stand amazed and think I would seriously injure myself if I even attempted to do that.  We have bidets in 6 of our 8 bathrooms at our house, and for the longest time my husband stood his ground that they were for foot washing, because he had seen people using them for that in public restrooms here.  I had to pull up pictures along  with the definition of bidet to show him what they are really for.  We still laugh about that.

Christian holidays and other non-UAE holidays are acknowledged here in hotels, restaurants, stores, and some locals will extend well wishes to expats on non-Muslim holidays.  Our landlord seems to go out of his way to make sure he says something to us on our holidays, even Halloween.  Right now, stores are filled with Christmas decorations, and there are even some stores in Dubai that seem to be nothing but Christmas decorations.....bizarre Christmas decorations, which for Dubai isn't all that shocking.

Proselytizing is not allowed here, and you can get in big trouble for it.  Giving out Bibles and religious material to Muslims are also a big no no. Still the UAE seems to be more tolerant of Christianity than most Muslim countries.   I have been in two retail stores here that play nothing but Christian worship songs in the store, and I have never seen anyone complain.  On the flip side, we also go to a Hardees  here that plays nothing, but a guy reading the Quran in Arabic the whole time.  My son says it's like the Muslim version of the Bible Broadcasting Network that my Grandfather listens to on the radio in the US.

No, it isn't America with it's religious freedoms, but Christians, Muslims, and the other many religions here seem to coexist together peacefully and respectfully.  Father Abraham had many sons.........