In Dubai I saw a cool side to Islam

Being in Dubai for almost fourteen years, I can chart the growth of three of us; mine, Dubai’s and other people. Before and the after the economic transitions, the changes are really evident.

I relocated here in 2002 after marriage. It wasn’t an easy decision because I had inhibitions about Dubai, since it is an Islamic nation. India or rather Bombay, where I am from is so diverse that religion was never a concern but this was the first time I was heading to a theocratic state. I had an image of Dubai as an extensive desert with women in hijab. There are always rumours about a place before you head there, and I had heard that Dubai was conservative.

But when I landed, the story was completely different. It was a cleaner version of Bombay with air-conditioned places. There were a lot of familiar restaurants and shops. And yes, they followed Islamic laws but people from other parts could live as they pleased, as long as they didn’t become a nuisance. It is a cosmopolitan place with all kinds of nationalities. Unlike what I had heard of other Islamic countries, this place is very liberal with the motto being live and let live. People here smoke and drink. Dubai also houses the best pubs in town!

Locals are very friendly and helpful. And as a woman I felt really safe here and could travel freely in cabs even at mid night. In fact women are treated special, I would say. When one visits government offices there are separate lines for women and if a woman is standing in midst of several men in a queue she is attended to first. A woman is heard first before a man. I have personally experienced all of this; be it at an immigration counter or collection of any important documents, I was never made to stand in a common line. I changed as a person and understood that Islamic practice has another side to it.

I never really missed Bombay here, because Bombay is very close by in case I want to visit but also anything and everything that you get in Bombay is available here too. I remember the Kalbadevi side when I see some items here. You get everything here in terms of food and clothing. Branches of restaurants like Sukh Sagar, Mahesh Lunch Home and shopping outlets like Roop Milan, Ayurvedic medicine shops and even Patanjali! There’s a particular area called Burdubai which is the heart of Indians. Here one can find all the best of Indian stuff, apart from other places in Dubai.

I have seen Dubai growing from a toddler into a beautiful young lady – from hi-tech infrastructure, to high rise plush apartments, to amusement green parks, to long sunshine beaches, to exotic 7 star hotels to high end plush resorts – You name it and your eyes are bound to catch these places in their gaze. Not to miss the Glittering Gold market! It definitely drove me crazy in my initial years.

There was a time when I used to enter a gold shop more often than a grocery shop. Those were the good old days from 2003 until 2008. But the US market collapse in 2008, affected us too. Many people lost their jobs and had to head back home immediately! A lot of people left their belongings here, some even their cars in airport parking! For them, their lives just turned around overnight. It wasn’t easy at all to watch people leave.

The time was really insecure and every day a trial! But I was very fortunate to sail through these changes, without getting affected. It just made me a very grateful person and also empathetic of others’ problems. These few years have taught me a lot – changes happen suddenly every time and we can never be enough prepared for it. We have to just accept the change whenever it comes and in whatever form it comes!

The place has given me everything and I have also seen how it feels when sudden changes take everything away. But I still feel it’s worth experiencing life in this city of Gold or a land of desert whatever you may want to name it. I thank God for being kind to give me shelter in this beautiful safe land; a home away from home country.