Tag Archives | Grand Mosque

In the suburbs no one can hear you scream

I live in the suburbs now.  From the maelstrom of Union Square in Manhattan to the slightly more sedate “urban” experience of highrise in downtown Abu Dhabi was one shift. But in a weird way the shift from one cityscape to another wasn’t as big a shift as the move from city to the ‘burbs.  It’s so quiet here . . . and when I walk around at night I’m always slightly on edge because my footsteps echo in the emptiness.  But the thing I miss most, weirdly, is hearing the call to prayer, which had become the regular punctuation for my day, when I lived “in town,” as we say now.

In The National today, I wrote about my sense of suburban displacement. You can read the article here and don’t be afraid to share it around: show The National a little social media love (and me, too, while you’re at it).  Thanks.  Would love to hear your thoughts in comments.


I took this photo of the Grand Mosque last winter during an unusual rainy day

Continue Reading · on November 22, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, environment, expat, NaBloPoMo, NYC, religion, The National, Travel, UAE

Mosque: Usual. Rain: Unusual.

It’s been raining here off and on for almost a week.  And not just little drizzles, either, but serious pelting rain, with occasional thunderstorms. People here freak out in the rain: the driving becomes even more erratic (I know, it seems impossible, but it’s true), and no  one knows quite what to do. Liam’s friend called the other day to ask if soccer practice would be canceled because it was raining, to which Liam replied “the coaches are English. Rain is what they know.” They played as scheduled.

I’m loving the respite from hot-and-sunny, but of course context is everything: by this time of year in the States, I’m always craving sunshine.

At that rainy practice the other day, I went for a run (yet another strange event) and afterwards walked by the Grand Mosque, which is just down the road from the sports complex where the boys play soccer.


Continue Reading · on May 3, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, environment, expat, Kids

a saturday morning view

So the boys started this morning at a soccer–dammit, football–school about 20 minutes drive from our apartment.  As I sat there staring into the morning sun, I realized I was looking at my new life in a nutshell:

a football field (okay, that’s a holdover from my old life); a construction site (sometimes it seems as if the entire city is under construction, one way or another); sunshine; and Islam, in this case the Grand Mosque, built in honor of Sheikh Zayed, the founder of the UAE.

I live in a Muslim country–the call to prayer sounds five times a day, women walk around swathed in black, the grocery store has a specially designated “pork room” for non-Muslims. So on the one hand, the influence of Islam seems inescapable.

But like this image of the mosque that hovers only in the background, it’s possible, as a non-Muslim to go about daily life as if you lived in, say, Santa Barbara or something (but with fewer women in tank tops).  I can buy liquor; I don’t have to cover myself in black to go outside (although frankly, with all the holiday eating, an abaya may soon be my only sartorial choice); I don’t have to be escorted everywhere by my husband (something for which we are both grateful).

In fact, it feels a little strange, this ability to float along the surface of life here without having to learn more about local culture–but then again, even “local” raises a question: in a country where about 85% of the population is non-native, what exactly constitutes “local culture?”  Drinking camel milk and eating dates can’t be the extent of “local-ness,” can it?

At the moment–probably because I’m still so new here–I’m more intrigued than frustrated by what I don’t know; I like thinking about the complicated collisions that happen between ancient worlds and modern. I don’t know if I will ever understand this part of the world–maybe I’m doomed always to look at it from afar. The Grand Mosque, in my photograph, looks like it’s just on the other side of the construction site, but in fact, it’s at least a few miles down the road.

There’s a great writer in Canada whose blog is schumtzie.com.  Last month she wrote about her guiding word for 2012. Her word is “shift.” I like that word a lot–shifting paradigms, shifting perspectives, shifting attitudes, tectonic shift…it’s a good word.

If she hadn’t chosen “shift,” I might choose it for myself.  But instead, thinking about the mosque, thinking about this odd place where I find myself these days, I think 2012’s guiding word will be: discover.

Look underneath, look within, explore, reveal…all of those are embedded in “discover.” That’s what I’m going to do in 2012.

What would your word be?


Continue Reading · on January 7, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Discoveries, environment, expat, me my own personal self, religion, Travel, UAE


Here’s where you get your abaya when you visit Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque:

No, there are no shoes available here, just black full-length robes for all female visitors not already wearing a robe, and white full-length robes for male visitors wearing shorts.

And here’s what you look like when you put on your black robe and veil:

When Muslim women wear the full abaya, with head scarf and face veil, they look to me like beekeepers in mourning. Me? I just looked like a white girl in a black bathrobe.

As I swished from the outer patios of the Grand Mosque into the inner courtyard, I imagined that wearing this robe would render me anonymous—just another devout Muslim woman.  But of course, peeking out from the black veil is my round Midwestern face–and no amount of Manhattan living, or black veiling, can disguise that, alas.

When I first put the headscarf on, Liam chided me for doing it wrong. I ignored him, of course. What ten year old boy knows anything about scarves?  And then just before I entered the mosque itself, the very nice young woman guard standing in the doorway pulled me aside. With a quick pinch of fabric in the back, a flick of the wrist, and a deft tuck or two, she had the veil adjusted: covering all of my hair in the back and snugly wrapped so that it wouldn’t slide around while I walked.

Liam, of course, was delighted to be corroborated in his sartorial judgments.

Wandering around the mosque in my black abaya, I wondered what it would be like to wear a robe all the time. It would certainly solve the whole muffin-top problem—there’s no waist-band in a robe and thus nothing for a tummy to spill over.  What happens to the concept of “sex appeal” in countries where women wear the abaya? Is it all about the eyes and the pedicure? The voice? Or are there codes and silent signals, the way there were when women carried fans all the time—fanning fast meant one thing, fanning slowly something else.

What would it be like to have your body not be available for scrutiny from anyone passing you on the sidewalk? To not catch a glimpse of a jiggly upper arm as you walk by a shop window and sort of wince? Would it make you feel more powerful or less powerful, do you suppose, to have your body just…not part of the equation of daily life, at least in public?

Considering questions of female empowerment was not, perhaps, the most mosque-appropriate line of thought, especially given that I was in the main prayer room—which is to say the men’s prayer room—while I contemplated the position of Muslim women in their society. (There are two ladies’ prayer rooms, each of which holds about 1500 people, adjoining the main prayer room, which itself holds about 9000.)  The main prayer room also, in fitting tribute to the “can you top this” spirit of the UAE, boasts the largest carpet in the world:

Of course, the other thing I kept thinking about, as I walked around with the boys, marveling at the intricate carvings and delicate details, is the Tea Bag Head kerfuffle a few months ago about the building of a Muslim community center in downtown Manhattan, near Ground Zero.  While there will be a worship space in that planned facility, it has about as much relation to “mosque” as a YMCA has to St. John’s Cathedral.

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