Tending to Dubai's Muslim roots

Emirati women walk past a window display featuring Valentine's Day gifts and lingerie at a mall in Dubai.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: The United Arab Emirates is an Islamic country. Sometimes it's hard to tell, especially here in Dubai, which is a surprise for some Muslims who come here.

Marketplace's Amy Scott reports.


AMY SCOTT: Every Monday night a group of women, and a few men, gathers in this opulent home near the largest mall in the Middle East. They leave their shoes by the door. Most of the women cover their heads. They sit on pillows in a circle. Summer Khan moved to Dubai from Los Angeles with her husband and three daughters. He made it big in real estate here, but she found the spiritual life lacking.

SUMMER KHAN: In the States there's a Sunday school, Islamic Sunday school, so we would send our kids on the weekends to learn about their religion, but here there's no such school.

So she hosts this weekly religious lesson in her home. This evening, Sheikh Walid Mosaad begins with a prayer. Like most of his students, he's an expat who came here for his job. He grew up in New Jersey.

SHEIKH WALID: A lot of people come to Dubai, or even the UAE in general, thinking that they're going to get more of a Muslim lifestyle than they would in Europe or in the U.S. There are mosques scattered across the city, but for the most part you don't really feel like you're in a traditional Muslim city like Cairo or Damascus.

Living here presents other challenges for Muslims. The sheikh's lecture this evening is dotted with references to excess, like the guy who just paid $14 million for license plate number one in Abu Dhabi.

WALID: Why would someone pay that amount of money? Think about it. Why would they do that? It's a number. It's a plate. It's a piece of plastic or metal. They're buying uniqueness, prestige.

The students come here from Australia and the UK. One is a lawyer from New York who works in Islamic finance, but it's not all expats in the group. Yusriya Al Amri is a rare Emirati in this country of outsiders. She says she feels almost a sense of duty to share her perspective with others.

YUSRIYA AL AMRI: We have to be ambassadors, you know. How I act or how I wear for example, how I speak with others, this means Islam.

For Al Amri, that means wearing the national dress, a black abaya that covers all but her face, but when the lesson ends, many of the others remove their head coverings as they go back into the night.

In Dubai, I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

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