February 9, 2010 lia

The Call to Beer

People have often asked me if living in a Muslim country has changed my religious practices.

Ramadan and Fridays are the only times I actually felt like I lived in a different culture. In the UAE, people work a Sunday through Thursday work week where Friday is the Holy Day, Thursday night is our Friday night, Friday is our Sunday, and Saturday nights are spent relaxing, preparing for the busy work week ahead, rather than gearing up for a night on the town.Despite these alterations to the work week, my life in Abu Dhabi looked more like my life in suburban Vancouver above anywhere else I had ever been. I drove to work, I drove straight from work to the hypermarket to fetch groceries, free time was spent driving to the shopping mall or to friends’ houses, and life revolved around the availability of parking, and the path of least traffic resistence.

Friday was a very different scene. A typical Friday morning involved sleeping in, lazing about, and eventually making breakfast plans that never managed to come to fruition until lunchtime. We would leave the house walking or driving along empty roads, famished from having taken so long to organise ourselves, recounting the adventures of the week. Walking through the streets of Abu Dhabi, there is a rare quietness as we dash through the alleyways, enjoying the hidden gems of the Capital tucked behind the boulevards. Abu Dhabi has an oppressive super-block configuration where most people’s urban experience occurs stuck in traffic on 8-lane boulevards lined with 22-storey buildings, or squeezing through parked vehicles on the smaller roads on the insides of the blocks which have become veritable parking lots punctuated by sheesha cafes and mosques. But at midday on Fridays the streets are empty of cars, and the usual bustle and honking of the inner superblocks is replaced by a quiet sea of white robes walking peacefully to the Friday mosque for prayers. We pass a group gathered under a tree drinking tea and realise for the first time that many of these interstitial urban spaces are actually rather nice places to spend time.

Our church is in sight. A single voice begins to ring from the surrounding mosques — the Call to Prayer — ushering its followers into their houses of faith. The pace speeds up as our Muslim brothers stream into the Friday mosques, eager not to be late for their weekly Jumu’ah prayer. With this same sense of urgency, we too make haste, pouring into our adopted house of worship: Brauhaus. And a hmmm / mmmm falls on the whole city as we observe our respective creeds. If anything, my life in Abu Dhabi has strengthened my religious practice of beer.