View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Experiencing Muslim Culture in the UAE and New York

Muslim Culture in the UAE
When tourists visit the UAE and other Islamic countries in the Middle East, where do they go to experience authentic Muslim culture?

In many countries culture is enshrined and showcased within its buildings but where are the buildings (apart from the mosques that are open to all) where Emirati culture can be experienced?

In a searching article, Maryam Ismail asks readers of The National (7 June 2009), ‘What does it mean to be immersed in the UAE culture’ and ‘Where can I find it?’

Australians often tell this joke on themselves: “What is the difference between yogurt and Australia? Yogurt has some culture.” It is a comment on the challenge of living on an ancient continent and struggling in a young nation to identify what it means to be Australian.

A similar dilemma about cultural identity faces those who live on the Arabian Peninsula, while learning to be part of the youthful nation of the United Arab Emirates.

Muslim Culture in the USA
It was heartening to hear President Obama in his Cairo speech (4 June 2009) to the Muslim world, extend with pride “a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: assalaamu alaykum.”

It was also instructive to hear him expound on the ways that “Islam has always been a part of America's story.”

Tribute to Muslim Culture in New York
Currently there are groups that have teamed up to construct a ‘Tribute to Muslim Culture’ in New York City. How have they done this?

For Starters
To set the mood they started off with:
* Hookahs (shisha for smoking flavored tobacco)
* Trays of chocolates and Arabic coffee
* A souk (market) selling food and crafts
* Bookshops and cafes (with pastries)

Getting Deeper
They have brought together the arts in a number of events:
* Dancing
* Music- Watch Parissa sing classical songs from Persia
* Film
* Poetry
* Paintings
* Calligraphy

Check out all the events in the Festival.

There are acts from Tunisia, Iran, USA, India, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Palestine, Pakistan, Egypt… Nothing it seems from the UAE.

The Importance of Experiencing Culture
Watching dance, viewing calligraphy or hearing music that comes from Islamic countries can be good entertainment but it is much more than this. As the New York Times article by Felicia Lee indicates, the festival in the Big Apple is designed to educate, to change perceptions, to get people of different cultures communicating, to provide understanding in the face of tension and ultimately build peace.

Standing at the Buchenwald Memorial last week, with the German Chancellor and the US President, Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, painted a vision of a world “where people will stop hating one another, hating the otherness of the other rather than respecting it.”

A cultural festival with coffee and calligraphy, dates and dance, souks and Sufi music is aimed at nothing less than transformation, by bringing people to their senses.

Exotic and Unusual? A New York Tribute to Muslim Cultures, NY Times, 5 June 2009.

Official Site: Muslim Voices Festival, NY City, 5-12 June 2009.

The resources link offers a range of articles on Islam and the Arts.

Deborah Sontag, The Intersection of Islam, America and Identity, NY Times, 4 June 2009.

Maryam Ishmail, I So Want to be an Integrated Expat…What Can I Do? The National, 7 June 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Culture on a plate. (Photo courtesy of Muslim Voices Festival site)