I probably don’t need to include this day in the trip report, but I’m going to use it to reflect a little bit, so I’ll include it.
As noted in my last post, my flight from Dubai left at 1:30 am on the 14th, arriving in Frankfurt around 5:30am. I had a 7 hour layover in Frankfurt and had originally planned to leave the airport like I had done in Zurich. But I stupidly put my jacket in my suitcase on the way to the airport because it was too hot to use it in Dubai and only realized I didn’t take it back out after I had checked my suitcase and made my way through security! Argh! Given the temperature in Frankfurt, walking around without a coat wasn’t going to be pleasant. In addition to not having a coat, there was also the issue of the 10 days of email and work I had neglected, so I decided to just camp out in the Frankfurt airport. I did luck into an extra shirt on the way off the flight when a flight attendant noticed all I had on was a t-shirt and asked if I had a jacket. I told her what had happened and she grabbed some pajamas they keep in stock in first class and gave them to me. They included a nice long sleeve shirt, which really helped!
The only other interesting thing that happened on the way home was an engaging conversation on the flight from Frankfurt to DC. I sat next to a German man who was very nice. We chatted during the last two hours about all sorts of topics, from German politics and the Euro crisis to patent law (he was a patent attorney for Ford in Europe) to religion (once he found out what I do). It was a very pleasant conversation.
As far as reflection goes, there is one point I really want to consider that was also my primary motivation for going on this trip. I have published one article on secularization and have another one forthcoming. Secularization is the primary macro-theoretical approach I employ in my research. But the leading theorist of secularization today, Steve Bruce, has, probably in order to avoid being criticized, explicitly stated that secularization is, at present, a theory relevant only to the West. Knowing that the UAE and Dubai, in particular, had developed rapidly and become quite modern, I wanted to see if that modernization had influenced the religiosity of Emiratis. While I have very limited data to go on, even after spending almost 10 days in the UAE, I think I have seen sufficient signs of secularization to begin to tentatively think that secularization holds for the Middle East as well.
A couple of things I observed gave me this impression. For instance, the fact that there are public calls to prayer (adhan) five times a day in many parts of the UAE would seem to suggest that modernization has not reduced the religiosity of Emiratis. To the contrary, the calls to prayer themselves have become a reflection of secularization. The minarets that traditionally were used by muezzin for the call to prayer have changed. Muezzin used to use the minarets to rise above the surrounding buildings so their voice could be heard over great distances. Today, the minarets in the UAE don’t even have room for muezzin. They are adorned with speakers. And, while I could be mistaken, I got the impression that many of the calls to prayer were actually recordings, not actual muezzin, or were just one muezzin being broadcast into multiple mosques. While this is a minor issue, I still see it as a reflection of secularization. By taking advantage of the modern convenience of microphones and speakers, muezzin need not be as dedicated to their religious faith. And the fact that one muezzin may service multiple mosques or the adhan may be recorded and then played back also suggests to me devotion has declined.
Another indicator of declining religiosity was the response to the adhan. During the entire time I was there I saw Emiratis respond to the adhan a grand total of ONE time, and that was when we were visiting with the half a dozen old men in Al Khan, all of whom were at least in their 60s, if not their 70s or 80s. Well, there was one younger man with them who was probably in his 30s, but the rest were quite elderly. The rest of the time, when I heard the adhan, which wasn’t all the time, it didn’t seem to trigger anything. Vendors in the soukhs didn’t stop harassing customers to engage in their ritual prayers. I heard stories of taxi drivers pulling over to pray, but I didn’t see it. And in the most modern venues we were in – Mall of the Emirates, Dubai Mall, Burj Khalifah, American University of Sharjah, I didn’t even hear the call to prayer. Maybe I just wasn’t paying close enough attention. Or maybe everyone prays discreetly. Or maybe there is another way of issuing the adhan and I simply missed it. But for some reason, I doubt that. My sense was that modern life just isn’t all that amenable to pausing and praying.
That leads to another observation – the pursuit of money appears to over-ride religiosity. As I observed a couple of times in these trip reports, various locales had set up Christmas Trees, including Jumeirah Madinat Mosque and the desert safari camp. And just before we arrived the city of Dubai had urged those there to go on a shopping holiday right around December 25th. In a country that is officially Muslim, includes Shariah Law in its constitution, and is historically Muslim, I just wouldn’t expect to find Christmas Trees or the celebration of Christmas. Admittedly the display of the symbols was not laced with explicit Christian paraphernalia and it was largely divorced from any religious meaning. But it was there. That says to me that religion is becoming less important.
Other indicators of declining religiosity… No one attributed the conservative restrictions of Sharjah to Islam. It was attributed to the Sheikh or the culture of Sharjah, but not Islam. This is probably out of a realization that if Sharjah says it is more closely observing Islam by banning alcohol and requiring women to be more modest, then what is it suggesting about its neighbor, Dubai, where alcohol is legal and people are not required to dress as modestly? The implicit suggestion would be that Emiratis in Dubai aren’t as good of Muslims. Thus, the restrictions are not attributed to Islam. The end result is that Islam is being watered down. Islam is decreasingly responsible for how people live their lives. Islam is becoming a set of nonfalsifiable beliefs, not unlike those of liberal Christians in the West. While Islamists are fighting that trend, many people in the Middle East oppose the Islamists and are happy to see the rigidness of Islam decline.
I’m sure not everyone would agree with my thoughts above on my observations. But to me, these observations support the idea that secularization is not limited to the West.
One final item. While putting together these daily logs I created a Google Map with markers for most of the places I visited. Here it is in case you’d like to familiarize yourself a bit more with the UAE: