Living in an Islamic Country

Katie ’68 and Roger Foster at a tour of the Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi.
Katie ’68 and Roger Foster at a tour of the Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi.

By Katie Gustafson Foster ’68, APR

In my wildest dreams I never thought I would be living in a foreign country, let alone an Islamic country in the Middle East. A phone call New Year’s Day 2010 sent my husband, Roger, packing for a flight to Dubai, where his company was relocating him. I would follow two months later.

Reactions to our announcement from family and friends ranged from total disbelief, “You shouldn’t be doing this at your age,” to sheer terror, “What about all the terrorists there,” to concern, “Mom, you are such an independent women, how are you going to live over there where women are so oppressed,” to the comical, “You’re going to look great in a headscarf.”

I will admit that as I boarded the flight from New York City to Dubai there was a big pit in my stomach. I all too often step off the cliff before looking to see where I am going to land. And there is always that brief moment of panic before the thrill of a new adventure kicks in.

The first thing to remember about living in an Islamic country is that, yes, it is different. Muslims believe that Allah has full wisdom and knows what is best for them, so they strive to follow his guidance in every aspect of life.

However, being over here in the thick of things, I can see that the Qur’an, the divine revelations Mohammed received during his life, can be interpreted differently in different countries. For sure the UAE, more modern than most Arab states, is a more tolerant but still holds true to the traditional Islamic values.

And let’s not forget about the “fanatics,” from every religion, who throughout the ages twisted religious teachings to meet their own needs. No religion, and that includes Islam, condones the killing of innocent people or promises virgins in the afterlife. And I certainly hope that no one reading this article will burn a Qur’an in protest.

An important note: like what Christ taught us as the two most important commandments 1) to worship only one God and 2) to treat your neighbor as yourself, Muslims also believe and act on the same. I do marvel at the similarities between the basic values of Islam and my Christian belief.

Living in the UAE has its rewards and restrictions. There is visibly little crime. Women are treated with a high degree of respect. No pork except in special sections of certain supermarkets and some restaurants. Alcohol is only sold in tourist hotels, though, as non-Muslims, you can purchase a liquor license to buy liquor for your personal use if you don’t mind the 30-percent tax!

Drunkenness, drug use, foul language, public display of affection, and dishonest behavior are all criminal offenses with very severe punishments. Others' religions are free to practice, but there is a strong warning that no evangelization will be tolerated.

Roger and I attend St. Francis Assisi Catholic Church, situated in the desert just south of Dubai. This compound, donated by the Rulers of Dubai, is home to seven Christian churches and a Hindu temple. St. Francis, a robust congregation of 10,000 parishioners, weekly celebrates 22 Obligatory Masses in 13 languages. The parish is led by the indomitable 80-year old Father Eugene Mattioli. I am privileged to serve as a Eucharistic Minister at St. Francis.

The two questions I am most asked are about women’s rights and marriage: The Qur’an, revealed in the sixth century, brought new rights and freedom to women through the many versus dealing with a woman’s right to work, to reject a marriage, entitlement to inheritances, and to be treated with kindness and respect.

For Muslim women, the Qur’an states they must dress modestly. How much covering, what style, and what color is determined by the tribal or country traditions. As a non-Muslim, I am asked to dress modestly. The rule of thumb is to be loosely covered from the neck to the elbow to the knees. At my age, this is a blessing!

In the UAE, a Muslim woman decides how much she is covered. Many choose to wear the abaya, a long black cloak, and the hijab, a head scarf covering the head and neck. Some prefer the complete face veil covering of the niqab, which only allows you to see the woman’s eyes. The burqa, a mask-like face covering, has lost favor and is now only worn only by elderly women.

In the Qur’an, it states that a woman cannot have a marriage forced upon her. Yes, marriages are arranged by families but the woman has the right to say no.

Muslim men are allowed four wives, but each must be treated equally. If you buy an expensive diamond for one, you must do the same for the others. In today’s world, few men can afford this luxury, and in the UAE, only 10 percent have multiple wives, mostly just two.

As I am writing this, I can see out my window that the sun is about to set over the Arabian Gulf and the evening call to prayer is sending meditative waves across the city’s skyscrapers. It is a peaceful scene. As is my habit, I use this call to say my own prayer for tolerance and peace.

I have found living in the UAE to be most exciting and have enjoyed exploring the country, its traditions, and its people. This has been the best adventure to date! If you visit Dubai, please look me up!


Katie Gustafson Foster ’68, APR, is a freelance writer living in Dubai. You can read about her adventures on her blog or Google “Arabian Tales.”

View the complete spring 2012 issue of LOYNO.
 

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