On Sunday, we visited the Jumeira Mosque, one of two mosques in Dubai open to non-Muslims. This is part of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al maktoum’s “Open Doors, Open Minds” program, a brilliant cultural initiative to facilitate conversation and understanding around Islam here in the Emirates between Emirati residents and non-Muslims. It was the first time for me entering a Mosque, the first time covering my hair, and the first time holding a falcon on my arm (an amazingly beautiful bird from Abu Dhabi, named Snow). We learned about ablutions—the series of washing rituals that need to happen to prepare oneself for worship before entering the mosque, the five pillars of Islam, and what it felt like to be inside a completely carpeted, intimate and intricately designed religious space with an incredible acoustic.
As we waited in a crowd of forty to enter the Mosque, eating dates and drinking Arabic tea and coffee (Arabica roasted beans, saffron, cardamom, and rosewater=exquisite), we immediately noticed a large number of men with yamukkahs and women with sheilas (scarves), their hair already covered, speaking in Hebrew. Since the Emirates and Israel normalized diplomatic relations about a month ago for the first time since the birth of Israel, Israelis have been allowed to visit Dubai, and, anecdotally from my own touring of the city, seem to be doing so in large numbers. I learned that many Jewish women also veil with a prayer shawl (tallitot) when they enter temple; yet another striking overlap between Judaism and Islam. I felt, all of a sudden, like I was living a historic moment, witnessing a kind of reconciliation that was not only unexpected but amazingly brave, given current tensions between Israel and Palestine, and between Israel and much of the Muslim world.