by A Contributor in Dubai (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 31, No. 3, Muharram, 1423)
Twenty million dirhams required to make it “a world class event, the first of its kind in the Middle East, featuring live dances by world-renowned dance troupes from 5 continents, combined with a unique laser show, to be completed with the most well-choreographed fireworks display ever seen in this part of the world.” All that and more for the paltry sum of approximately $5.5 million, for the opening ceremony of the Dubai Shopping Festival 2002, running from March 1 to March 31. The commentator continues: “5,000 guests are expected to attend this ceremony marking the beginning of this long-awaited fixture in Dubai’s calendar of events, which will see over 1.5 million visitors to the city to enjoy unlimited shopping at hard-to-beat prices, in a relaxing and enjoyable environment.”
Add to that the daily raffle draws: the Gold Draw, where one might win 1 kilogram of gold; a draw for a top-of-the-range Nissan Patrol, and the grand prize each day of 200,000 dirhams as well as an RX300 and an ES300, both recent additions to Lexus’ portfolio of luxury cars. The advertisement entices one: “You will NOT win...” followed in small print by: “...unless you buy a ticket.” Tickets sell for a trifling 200 dirhams (about $55).
There are also nightly fireworks displays: 10 minutes of atmospheric pollution, costing at least another million dirhams per show; reports vary, and official reports are next to non-existent.
There are specially constructed ‘cities’: Children’s City (construction cost: 77 million dirhams); Global Village, which has pavilions, restaurants and stalls from all over the world, thrilling high-tech rides, and daily cartoon and dance shows, to mention just a few attractions; and family-oriented zones (Net Zone, Sports Zone, Health Market etc.) all over the city, all to help one “get into the swing of things”, and to woo visitors into wasting time, energy and money. Signs of the Dubai Shopping Festival 2002 are everywhere, not even sparing the roads. A city through which meander dozens of kilometres of 3- and 4-lane highways, finds itself ill-equipped to cope with the mass of vehicles crowding its streets, forcing residents to suffer for double or triple the time a journey normally takes.
Dubai has been basking in the illusory glory of all its titles (“Dubai, City of Gold”, “Festival City”, “City that Cares” etc.) since 1996, when the Festival was first launched. All advertisements consistently show the high life that residents of Dubai are apparently enjoying, to give the impression of wealth and happiness, and that the two can only be attained by participating in the DSF. Conveniently omitted in the advertisements are the silent, but indisputable, facts: that Dubai is so pathetically trying to fit into the world map, as THE place to be, that it is giving up its identity in a trade-off that leaves it totally unprepared to face the consequences, which the population as a whole will suffer for years to come.
Conveniently ignored are the thousands of labourers who have been worked like dogs, who ultimately don’t have any way to participate in the partying, such as it is, because they don’t have the money to afford that kind of ‘happiness’. Conveniently disregarded are all the basic tenets of Islam, which are openly, brazenly flouted by most Arabs, who still have the audacity to call themselves Muslims. A typical example is an Arab woman, whom one would be hard-pressed to differentiate from a Western non-Muslim one by her looks or dress alone, who usually presents the draw, and who is showered with all the trappings - literally - that come with modern-day fame.
Conveniently overlooked is one of the most famous and all-encompassing hadiths of the Prophet (s.a.w.): “One who wakes up in the morning and does not worry about the affairs of his Muslim brothers is not a Muslim.” Why, when only a million dirhams are sent to Palestine, is it headline news, whereas when 20 million dirhams are thrown away on three hours of ‘enjoyment,’ it is not even mentioned?
Dubai’s wealth rests on extremely thin ice: a city that has no significant source of income apart from tourism, it cannot hope for any real stability in the long run. The Shopping Festival is a ploy to make Dubai seem more attractive to investors and tourists, by inflating revenue figures for a month alone: the media will be counting every visitor to Dubai during March as a visitor to DSF, every purchase made as being a result of the DSF, and so on. A realistic picture of Dubai and its life would be very different indeed.
Materialism and consumerism, the new order of the day, are all-too-evident in every marketplace and shopping mall that one visits. Nowhere will any visitor see any resemblance to an Islamic country or society, or to a society or community that at least aspires, however poorly and clumsily, to Islamic or Muslim culture, priorities and concerns, such as lifting up the poor and weak rather than increasing the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. Having read histories about entire communities being wiped out for exhibiting the same materialism that the West now espouses, and seeing the proliferation of decadence leading today’s societies towards the same fate, this continuing refusal to learn from the past cannot bring but identical ruin to Dubai and many other countries. The recent collapse of Argentina is an obvious case in point; its adoption of the same policies that Dubai is embracing with open arms has caused it to implode.
“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” So said Winston Churchill many years ago. The Qur’an, our constitution for life, also repeatedly reminds Muslims of the same undeniable truth, one example being “We narrate to you the best of narratives, by Our revealing to you this Qur’an” (12:3). Even if Dubai and other governments do not want to listen to the Qur’an, they would do well to learn from recent history, and open their eyes to the realities of the path of destruction — economic and morally— that they are taking, before it is too late.
[This comment was contributed by a reader in Dubai who prefers to remain anonymous.]