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lala marcy
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« on: Sep 22, 2008 04:45 PM »


 http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/22/world/middleeast/22dubai.html?hp

Young and Arab in Land of Mosques and Bars
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — In his old life in Cairo, Rami Galal knew his place and his fate: to become a maintenance man in a hotel, just like his father. But here, in glittering, manic Dubai, he is confronting the unsettling freedom to make his own choices.

Here Mr. Galal, 24, drinks beer almost every night and considers a young Russian prostitute his girlfriend. But he also makes it to work every morning, not something he could say when he lived back in Egypt. Everything is up to him, everything: what meals he eats, whether he goes to the mosque or a bar, who his friends are.

“I was more religious in Egypt,” Mr. Galal said, taking a drag from yet another of his ever-burning Marlboros. “It is moving too fast here. In Egypt there is more time, they have more control over you. It’s hard here. I hope to stop drinking beer; I know it’s wrong. In Egypt, people keep you in check. Here, no one keeps you in check.”

In Egypt, and across much of the Arab world, there is an Islamic revival being driven by young people, where faith and ritual are increasingly the cornerstone of identity. But that is not true amid the ethnic mix that is Dubai, where 80 percent of the people are expatriates, with 200 nationalities.

This economically vital, socially freewheeling yet unmistakably Muslim state has had a transforming effect on young men. Religion has become more of a personal choice and Islam less of a common bond than national identity.

Dubai is, in some ways, a vision of what the rest of the Arab world could become — if it offered comparable economic opportunity, insistence on following the law and tolerance for cultural diversity. In this environment, religion is not something young men turn to because it fills a void or because they are bowing to a collective demand. That, in turn, creates an atmosphere that is open not only to those inclined to a less observant way of life, but also to those who are more religious. In Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Algeria, a man with a long beard is often treated as an Islamist — and sometimes denied work. Not here in Dubai.

“Here, I can practice my religion in a natural and free way because it is a Muslim country and I can also achieve my ambition at work,” said Ahmed Kassab, 30, an electrical engineer from Zagazig Egypt, who wears a long dark beard and has a prayer mark on his forehead. “People here judge the person based on productivity more than what he looks like. It’s different in Egypt, of course.”

A Playground for All Sides

No one can say for sure why Dubai has been spared the kind of religion-fueled extremism that has plagued other countries in the region. There are not even metal detectors at hotel and mall entrances, standard fare from Morocco to Saudi Arabia. Some speculate that Dubai is like Vienna during the cold war, a playground for all sides. There is a robust state security system. But there is also a feeling that diversity, tolerance and opportunity help breed moderation.

“There is not going to be somebody who has a grudge against the system,” said Tarik Yousef, dean of the Dubai School of Government. “You might have a problem with something, but there’s enough to make you happy. You have a job — and the mosque is open 24 hours.”

Dubai dazzles, but it also confuses. It appears to offer a straight deal — work hard and make money. It is filled with inequities and exploitation. It is a land of rules: no smoking, no littering, no speeding, no drinking and driving. But it also dares everyone to defy limitations. There is the Burj Dubai, a glass tower that will be the tallest in the world. There is the Dubai Mall, which will be the biggest in the world. There are artificial islands shaped into a palm tree design (they said it couldn’t be done) and an indoor ski slope. There is talk of a new hotel, the biggest yet in Dubai, that will cool the hot sand for its guests. There is credit, and there are credit cards, for anyone with a job. There are no taxes.

“They should give you an introduction when you arrive,” said Hamza Abu Zanad, 28, who moved to Dubai from Jordan about 18 months ago and now works in real estate. “It is very disorienting. I felt lost. There are fancy cars, but don’t speed. You can have prostitutes, but don’t get caught with a woman. I was driving along the beach and there were flashes — I thought someone was taking my picture.”

The flashes turned out to be surveillance cameras. He was speeding. The next day the police called and told him to pay his fines, he said, still laughing at his initial innocence.

He had lived for years in Canada and graduated from college there. He spoke English, drank beer, dated women, lifted weights, lived a Western-style life, but felt culturally out of sync. “At Christmas I was lonely,” Mr. Abu Zanad said one day with a beer in one hand and the tube of a Turkish water pipe in the other. “Everyone is celebrating, but international students don’t know what’s going on.”

In this way, Dubai offers another prescription for promoting moderation. It offers a chance to lead a modern life in an Arab Islamic country. Mr. Abu Zanad raised his beer high, almost in a toast, and said he liked being able to walk through a mall and still hear the call to prayer.

“We like that it’s free and it still has Arab heritage,” he said “It’s not religion, it’s the culture, the Middle Eastern culture.”

“The Arabs have a future here,” said his best friend, Bilal Hamdan. “Where are we going to go back to? Egypt? Jordan? This is the future.”

Mr. Galal sees it as his future too, especially when he thinks of what would await him at home, where success is guaranteed only to those with connections and wealth.

One evening, as he set out for the night to meet Egyptian friends, he was noticeably agitated. It turned out he watched on television as Egypt’s upper house of Parliament, a historic building in the center of Cairo, burned for hours in a humiliating symbol of the state’s decay.

“Look how long it’s taking them to put out a fire in Parliament and they’re using the most primitive methods,” he finally said. “I feel like I’m watching a black and white movie. What would I go back and do?”

Mr. Galal grew up in Shubra, a busy, crowded neighborhood in Cairo, where the streets are packed with young men who are unemployed or underemployed. He comes from a traditional, observant household where family honor is linked to obeying social norms and respecting religious values.

Mr. Galal graduated from college with a degree in social work, but the only job available was as a maintenance man for about $100 a month. He felt as if he was treading water, and so at the urging of his family got engaged to a young woman from his neighborhood. He said that he thought the goal of marriage would give him a purpose, something to work toward.

About a year later, a friend working in Dubai recommended him for a job in construction, and he grabbed the chance. It was a difficult adjustment.

“I didn’t feel like anyone understood how I felt,” he said. He gained weight and got depressed.

He works at a construction company helping to assemble massive air-conditioning units, essential in the withering heat and humidity of Dubai. He reviews blueprints and decides which materials are needed.

His company gave him housing in a dormitory, a three-story, sand-colored building in Jebel Ali, a sprawling desert landscape of big-box warehouses and construction sites.

“When I first arrived it was not what I expected,” Mr. Galal said. “You hear about the Emirates, but all the people I worked with were Indian. I wanted to leave.”

Now his home, or rather, where he sleeps, is in Labor Camp No. 598,655. He shares a room the size of a walk-in closet with two other men on the first floor of the dormitory. The hundreds of men on his floor share a bathroom and a kitchen, where he will not eat because they serve only Indian food. There are about 20 Arab men out of 3,000 mostly Indian residents. Most of his meals are at mall food courts or in cheap restaurants serving Arabic cuisine.

“It’s not nice, it’s normal,” Mr. Galal said as he closed the flimsy door to his room, stepping over the piles of shoes and sandals in the hall. It was 5:30 p.m. and his roommates were fast asleep after a long hot day at the construction site.

A Change of Identity

In fact, the mix of nationalities has made Mr. Galal redefine himself — not predominantly as Muslim but as Egyptian. Asked if he feels more comfortable with a Pakistani who is Muslim or an Egyptian who is Christian, he replied automatically: “The Egyptian.”

His best friend, Ayman Ibrahim, 28, lives in the room next to Mr. Galal, also with two other men. Mr. Ibrahim is from Alexandria, Egypt, and has been in Dubai for more than two years. He works as a senior safety supervisor in another division of the company.

Mr. Ibrahim was waiting outside in a white Toyota Corolla provided by the company. His Egyptian fiancée’s picture dangled from his key chain in the ignition.

Dubai has been built along roadways, 6, 12, 14 lanes wide. There was no central urban planning and the result is a city of oases, each divided from the other by lanes of traffic. The physical distance between people is matched by the distance between nationalities. Dubai has everything money can buy, but it does not have a unifying culture or identity. The only common thread is ambition.

As Mr. Galal and Mr. Ibrahim headed to town, the traffic was ferocious, another downside of Dubai’s full-throttle development. It took two hours to get to Diera, the old part of the city. But the friends did not seem to mind inching along. Popular Egyptian love songs played from the stereo as the car crawled past the Marina, another exclamation point in a city full of them, with skyscrapers, a Buddha Bar and a marina, a real marina, for boats.

“This is not for us, the sheiks live here,” Mr. Galal said as the car passed the Marina. But there was no anger or envy in his voice, as there would be if he were in Egypt, where when he sees wealth he knows that it is beyond his reach. When Mr. Galal came to Dubai his salary was 2,000 dirhams a month, or about $550.

“I wish I can make 40,000 a month,” he said with a dreamy smile. “When I first came here I was hoping for 5,000, now I make 5 and I want 10, and I will start making 10 in a month. Salaries here increase.”

The young men made it to Diera, parked in a hotel lot and walked down the sidewalk, until the smell of scented tobacco was strong and sweet. They turned left at the Domino’s Pizza, up a flight of stairs and into Awtar, an Egyptian-style coffeehouse that served Turkish water pipes, called shisha in Egypt, and showed Egyptian soccer on television. The place was filled with Egyptian men who were smoking, and drinking sweet tea and coffee.

Mr. Galal put his cellphone on the table and lit a Marlboro, again. He described how he no longer felt at home anywhere. The diversity and opportunity in Dubai, he says, have made Egypt seem more unlivable than it was before. But he said the openness, the temptations of Dubai, also frightened him.

“The things I saw here, I can’t tell you,” he said “I can’t trust anyone here, I can’t.”

‘A New Way of Life’

The Rattlesnake Bar and Grill, where he and his friend often go after the coffeehouse, is cheap by Dubai standards, about an $18 cover charge. Inside there is a Wild West theme and a Filipino rock band blasting pop music and many single women lined up like merchandise by the front door. A sign by the bar promised “a new way of life.”

This is where Mr. Galal met Reem — though he said that was probably not her real name. On a Thursday night — the first night of the weekend — Rattlesnake was packed with single men and prostitutes. Mr. Galal seemed jealous when Reem was working the floor, talking to guys. His head was tipped, his shoulders hiked up, a bit like a nervous schoolboy. Reem wore skin-tight black tights, a black, low-cut top, and held a stern gaze as Mr. Galal leaned in and talked to her. They chatted a few minutes before Reem went off.

“Look, I’m not a muscle man and I’m not loaded, she must like me,” Mr. Galal said, sounding a touch unsure of himself.

“She’s here for business and I know she has to do this. She tries to make me understand. But I get attached.”

A week later, Mr. Galal was overloaded. “I am suffocating here,” he said as he walked into the coffeehouse. He moved up his vacation home to Cairo. He said that he needed to get back on track, to break from the drinking and the women, and reconnect with his values.

A few days later, Mr. Ibrahim drove him to the airport for the nearly four-hour flight home to spend the holy month of Ramadan with his family. In Dubai, Mr. Ibrahim said, “There’s work and life and money. There were days when I didn’t have a place to stay, no money, nothing. But I made it as opposed to Egypt where you start at zero and stay at zero.”

But if Dubai offers opportunity, it also poses risks.

For days after his return to Egypt, Mr. Galal could not get hold of Mr. Ibrahim on the telephone. He had been arrested, charged by the police with trying to steal tons of scrap metal from his construction site. Five days after he was taken in, Mr. Ibrahim was released, but the police kept his passport.

“I didn’t do it,” he said. “I am here two and a half years trying to make a life for myself and in two minutes my life is ruined.”

In Cairo, Mr. Galal reconnected with his family. He fasted for Ramadan, including giving up cigarettes during daylight hours. And he went out looking for his friends on the bustling streets of his neighborhood, which is the antithesis of Dubai. It is filled with people, men, women, children, all night long, shopping, chatting, smoking, enjoying the cool night air, the warmth of the neighborhood, and a common culture.

Mr. Galal cut and gelled his hair. He got a close shave and bought himself a thick silver link chain to wear around his neck. He looked as if he would fit right in. But he did not feel that way.

“My friends are all stuck at a certain limit, that’s as far as they can go,” Mr. Galal said after three weeks at home. “Nothing is new here. Nothing is happening. My friends feel like I changed. They say money changed me.”

Mr. Galal and a cousin went out for a night of fun the day before he was scheduled to return to Dubai. They sat on the sidewalk by the Nile where men were fishing. A woman rented them plastic lawn chairs and brought over sweet tea and a drink made from chickpeas. “I want to go back,” he said. “I was living better there. It’s the simple things, sitting at the coffee shop, talking to people, their mentality is different.”

He said he broke off his engagement. Marriage in Egypt is usually a practical matter, a necessary step to adulthood, to independence. It is often arranged.

A year in Dubai changed his view of marriage. “You are looking for someone to spend your whole future with,” Mr. Galal said.

“I want to go back and have fun. My future is there, in Dubai.”


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« Reply #1 on: Sep 22, 2008 09:31 PM »

that article was pretty interesting and i think i now understand the point of ramadan better...

most muslims if you give them an inch, will take a foot.  if you put alcohol in their face, they will look right and left, then smile and have a swig.  if you put a pretty (haram) woman in their lap, again they will look right and left to see if anybody is looking, and then go ballistic with joy. 

but in ramadan, all these dodgy muslims (who to my great surprise are not an insignificantly small fringe) find an opportunity to salve their guilt and connect with their religion.   promises like the "reward of 100 months in a single night"  prompt them to at least drop what they are doing and chase after something larger than life itself.  for example, interestingly yesterday the driver who drives me university all the time told me....mahbub, do you go to tarawih?  you should, its really great...promise you'll go tomorrow!  and this was from a driver who outside of ramadan drinks and gets drunk...i didn't know what to say.

sometimes i really hate these  --hypocrite, one hand on a rosary, the other on a hot woman -- muslims.  sometimes i just hate muslims.  and sometimes i get scared that if am not compassionate, Allah will break my legs and turn me into one of them...
 
people say extremism  is a big problem among muslims.  we have muslims willing to blow stuff up.  even on this board we have a cheese who could hardly be bothered if say an ahmedi were blown up.  but there is another extremism  -- muslims living double lives. during ramadan they flood the mosque.  outside of ramadan they flood the bars.  how is a normal muslim supposed to survive when surrounded by such extremists?   i know dubai sucks, and vice is easier than water there.  but muslims are like this are everywhere.  what's a normal person supposed to do?   


 
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« Reply #2 on: Sep 22, 2008 09:46 PM »

I didn't get a chance to read the article thanx for posting it lala... inshaallah I will soon, but to comment on your thoughts lucid...people are human beings. They make mistakes. They are weak. When haram is put in front of them they take it. When they are outside their natural environment they go crazy... hence this guy in dubai... hence foreign students in the US. But why condemn them if they want to try to get "some good points" or come to the mosque for once or try to do something good in ramadan. Yes it's hypocritical but we as human beings are like that. If we hate seeing the hypocrisy in other Muslims, we need to look at the hypocrisy in ourselves as we all have some and try to fix that first.

I think that we should encourage people to come even if they don't usually or to fast, even if they don't outside of ramadan or even if they have gfs/bfs or drink or whatever. Who knows if that one time or that one prayer will help change them or help them make a change. Just the fact that they acknowledge themselves as Muslims is a huge plus that we should be happy about. We know tons of people who have "left Islam" or become atheists or become Quran-onlys or have "islam in their hearts" type of people or just the plain islamaphobes or the ones that hate islam and spread their garbage on Fox news. So seriously he has some sins but he's still Muslim. Let's try to encourage our brothers and sisters. You know even if a prostitute walked into a masjid and made a dua with one sincere tear drop who knows if Allah might forgive her because of her sincerity and inability to escape her situation. How can we prevent or condemn this? I'm not going to step between anyone and their Lord.
 
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« Reply #3 on: Sep 23, 2008 12:23 AM »

yes,

but religion/islam doesn't work as a social institution when its members are hypocrites.  the great rallying cry for being part of a religious community is that it is made up of people answering to higher morals.  however, if religious people are just as fallible as the local dude in a brothel, then religious preachers, its advocates no longer have anything to stand on....

...so what happens next?  religion becomes something completely personal, nothing more than an individual choice -- and the whole community part is expunged from the religious identity.  what's the point of being part of the muslim community if most of them are hypocrites? 

when muslims act hypocritically they devalue islam as a movement.  maybe this is okay.  but islam is really a lot more than about just me and me.  it is about me and you and everybody at large.   the power of individuals adds up linearly,  however the power of a community is a nonlinear function of the number of individuals.   and that immense power of a community is only benevolent when its individual members are sincere people.

i think that is why nowadays most muslims really are not so attached to the wider muslims, and why in muslim countries being outwardly religious can carry a stigma.  nobody wants to hire or even be associated with outwardly very religious folks because they give you the creeps, and because in any case they are hypocrites...

sin is nonlinear in life and if you do it you are supposed to hide it.  presumably, this is because if people see you openly doing something hypocritical it will devalue everything that is good about you, and it will make it easier for them to do the same thing.  hence hypocrisy is not such a trifle thing to be brushed under the rug.  perhaps we should not say "yeah i know he's at the brothel now, but at least he prays..."   good for him that be prays.  but it is bad for the rest of us that someone we are associated with in the mosque also goes to the brothel....

allahu alam....i pray that allah protects me and all i know from such difficulties...
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« Reply #4 on: Sep 24, 2008 11:22 AM »

Quote
allahu alam....i pray that allah protects me and all i know from such difficulties...

Ameen.

I think I understand what you're trying to say?, and yes we should be better and we need to be better but that is what Islam is about. There is a personal component and there is an ummah component, hence so many things pushing us to rise up, come together and be an "ummah, a people" enjoining good and forbidding evils to help the world. But what you see today are a lot of messed up muslims, so what can I tell you? So if a Muslim is a bad Muslim who can we blame for that? I can't blame the religion. I think it comes from a lot of factors, like our current emphasis on the outer forms of islam such as hijab/the beard/drinking/going to the mosque in ramadan/ and not things of character such as being a moral honest upright person. So our education from our teachers needs to change first and each person has to take responsibility for their own self and do their best to remove any forms of hypocrisy.

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« Reply #5 on: Sep 25, 2008 04:28 AM »

salam

Think about it tho, this isn't exclusively a Muslim quirk. To behave as badly as possible once you enter into a society which doesn't blink at the behaviour.

A lot of the reason we modify our behaviour is not because we are afraid of divine retribution, but more like what the neighbours would think.

Take england for example, you have unmarried mothers (and young mostly, absent, multiple baby fathers), and guys/girls going to clubs and pubs and bars, and they do it freely and happily and to the utter extreme (without the annual interruption of Ramadan), because they can, because society no longer sensors this sort of behaviour.


I actually do like Dubai, however I think the day Sheikh Mohammad allowed alcohol and bars/clubs on the sands was the first day of it's slow spiral out of control.
The last time I went about three years ago, Russian prostitutes had been banned and replaced with Thai ones, as a Russian one had killed a 'local'........ it was actually visibly apparent, there were no longer these tall amazonian heavily made up blonde women around anymore, instead you had small oriental women, lots of them. So it can be done then, getting rid of prostitutes, and the alcohol etc.

We are lucky tho, that we have Ramadan to stop us in our tracks, and allow us to regroup spiritually and refocus on the hereafter, instead of losing ourselves in the hedonism of this world without check.


Wassalaam

And when My servants question thee concerning Me, then surely I am nigh. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he crieth unto Me. So let them hear My call and let them trust in Me, in order that they may be led aright. Surah 2  Verse 186
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