Spiritual Explorer: Exploring Dubai’s Urbanity at Nature’s Expense
Editors Note: This article is part of a series. Follow along as Jacob explores widely different cultures and places and delves into the spirituality, history, and people that make these places unique.
Tomorrow I will take my two small traveling bags and continue my exploring. I will fly from Bucharest, Romania, to Dubai, the crown jewel of the United Arab Emirates and one of the world’s most rapidly growing cities. It will be interesting to see for myself the resulting combination of Islamic Shariah law and the Arab love of money.
“In wisdom gathered over time I have found that every experience is a form of exploration.” [–Ansel Adams]
The Explosive Growth of Dubai
In the last decade, Dubai’s explosive growth has occurred for a wealth of reasons, from the highly advertised push towards modernity and architectural innovation, to the economic opportunities across the wide spectrum of income levels. Everyone from bankers, celebrities, and real estate developers, to the service and construction industry workers have been lured to Dubai, hoping to cash in on this swiftly established economic powerhouse.
Because of this eclectic socio-economic composition and rapid growth, Dubai has attracted expats from across the globe, making it a hugely ethnically diverse city as well. Representation from 160 of the world’s countries can be counted as current residents, with around 50% of the population hailing from the Indian subcontinent alone. In all of the United Arab Emirates, only around 20% of the residents are native citizens.
There is a disturbingly checkered past of human rights violations within the gleaming walls of some of the world’s costliest, most luxurious buildings. Perhaps this is due to the ethnic or religious diversity, or perhaps it is a result of the economic disparity between Dubai’s super-rich and the people who serve them. Allegations of bonded labor and all that comes with the practice are widespread. Reports of beatings, false promises of pay, and prison-like conditions have worryingly been prevalent, painting a complex portrait of a city’s rapid rise to prominence at the cost of human life.
The UAE’s Mix of Islamic Law and Love of Money
A mix of powerful, hereditary monarchs and constitutionally elected heads of state rule the UAE. Tradition dictates a certain level of autonomy between the seven Emirates, with a king (called “sheikh”) ruling over each of the seven. Additionally, a Prime Minister and a President are elected over the whole of the UAE.
Constitutionally, religious freedom is protected in the UAE, and Islam is the official state religion. The law seems written to satisfy a combination of respect for Sha’ria law and the love of the dirham – the nation’s currency. Pursuing freedom and modernity has, unfortunately, taken its toll on both humans and the environment.
Islam is a religion steeped in the recognition of our natural surroundings. God has given us a home equipped with an abundance of necessary means. By these we may sustain comfortable lives and pursue happiness, but these gifts are given with a warning to uphold a standard of custodianship for the blessings which we call our home.
“From an Islamic point of view, human beings are God Almighty’s representatives on the planet Earth, and they are entitled to benefit from its resources without selfishly monopolizing them. Human beings must seek to develop this planet in accordance with the provisions of the Holy Quran and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad[, or his] “Sunnah,” with the stipulation that current needs must be met without jeopardizing the rights of future generations.”
[– Sustainable Development in a Muslim Context, by Dr. Mohammad Nouh Ali Ma’abdeh Alqadi]
Dubai, the Vulnerable Marvel
Located along the Persian Gulf, Dubai was built on the idea of turning sand into money. The natural landscape suffers no shortage of sand, and the oil rich nation had the foresight to recognize tourism as a hugely beneficial supplement to its oil revenues. Just over ten years ago now, the onset of the construction boom in Dubai was a tremendous feat of strategic economic and social engineering. It has positioned Dubai as one of the world’s biggest tourism capitals, with little to none of the typically relevant historical draws of other tourism capitals, such as Barcelona, London, New York, Egypt, or Paris. It is a modern marvel.
However, the marvel that is Dubai was built with no consideration for the environmental impact and damage to its natural surroundings, and with no model for long-term sustainability. Dubai sits precariously on the edge of a sea that is rising right along with the rest of the world’s water levels, due to rapid climate change and depletion of ice reserves in Greenland and Antarctica.
It’s shocking to imagine, but a very real possibility exists that the gleaming towers of Dubai’s burgeoning metropolis may be battling an encroaching ocean tide within this current century. They may even be possibly wallowing several feet under water.
“Travel in the Land”
But for now, with my imminent plans of travel, I’m excited to see this land of which I’ve heard so much. The Arabian Desert and the Arabian Sea hold an unmistakable allure for me. So much so that, regardless of the glamorous cities that dot these huge expanses of sand and saltwater – I’d still want to see them and go exploring.
There are several verses in the Quran encouraging people to travel; the following is just one example:
Say: “Travel through the earth and see how Allah did originate creation; so will Allah produce a later creation, for Allah has power over all things.” [Quran 29:20]
If there is anything I have learned from previous travels, it is that there is no way to replicate the experience of being in a place. Smelling the air, watching the sun set — be it over mountaintops or skyscrapers, one must go and see for himself.
In truth, though, it was only the goal of reaching Nepal for under $300.00 that will bring me through Dubai. Sometimes the plane tickets take me to places I didn’t necessarily expect, but I typically just roll with it. Leave the map behind and let’s travel.
(Top image note and source: Dubai’s Burj al Arab. pixabay)
Follow Jacob’s series “Spiritual Explorer” as he delves into unique cultures, spirituality, history, and people of the places he travels. Let us know whether you agree with his impressions.
Week 2: Soul Searching From Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah
Week 3: God’s Plan vs My Plan
Week 4: To Trust a Smile in Sri Lanka
Week 5: Sri Lanka’s Cash Culture
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