The Middle Eastern emirate of Dubai may be filled with the world’s most incredible luxury hotels, shopping and fine dining, but it is possible to discover more about the area’s history and religion. A great place to start is the SMCCU, the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, named for the ruler of Dubai. The Centre was established to promote understanding of Islamic culture and to allow visitors to experience it. More than just experience it, the Centre provides a free and open forum for questions and an exchange of information about Islam. The Jumeirah Mosque is part of the Centre and part of the experience is a visit to the mosque. It provides an opportunity to see what goes on inside, and what all the symbols and other details mean. It’s also another opportunity for discussion and education about the practices of attending the mosque.
The Centre also has rotating cultural and educational exhibits like a museum. As I write this, they currently have a very cool Birds of Prey program and demonstration. This connects with the Middle East’s love of falconry. They also currently have a photography exhibition of mosques from around the world. Aside from the exhibits, they offer experiences which include an authentic Arabic meal and / or tea service, tour of the surrounding historic area and cultural experience inside the mosque.
The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding promotes exactly that, understanding and discussion, not Islam. It’s not there to convert people, it’s there to educate them. I visited with a group of journalists (male and female) from around the world. We had a frank and open discussion about Islam and were able to ask questions about things we had heard or seen. This included topics like Arabic dress and clothing, Middle Eastern politics, women’s rights, Israel and Islamic prayer practices.
DXB is a huge airport served by most international carriers. Emirates is the country’s flag carrier and offers direct flights from many U.S. cities. A good alternative is Etihad, which flies into AUE, Abu Dhabi’s airport. Abu Dhabi is a neighboring emirate in the U.A.E. and AUE is not much further from downtown Dubai than DXB.
SMCCU is on the banks of Dubai Creek in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood near the Deira area. A visit also allows for a walk through the souks of Deira and a taste of old Dubai.
Where to Stay
When I was in Dubai, I stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Dubai Jumeirah Beach. This hotel, which felt more like a Ritz-Carlton, was originally built as a luxury apartment building. This means it’s filled with oversized, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, some with full kitchens and other amenities. I had a fantastic one-bedroom apartment on the corner of the building, with views of the Dubai Marina and of the sea. It had a huge wrap-around balcony, with a table and chairs that was wonderful for having breakfast each morning. The hotel is right at the end of Jumeirah Beach Walk.