Sheik-ing the Towers of Faith

Part of Issue 32 – Christianity and World Religions

Author: Andy Kingston-Smith, Lecturer in Mission, Redcliffe College. Andy is also involved in supporting ‘multi-directional mission’, serving in a pastoral capacity for Latin Partners, a sister organisation of Latin Link, and in the ‘Back to Europe’ initiative.


This article is a personal reflection on my very brief trip to Dubai a few months ago, and is intended merely to share a few cultural and missiological impressions, which in turn might stimulate interest in how, as Christians, we might engage with multi-faceted ‘models’, such as that presented by contemporary Dubai. My own interests in missiological engagements with postcolonialism, globalisation and ‘green’ issues serve as the backdrop to this brief commentary.
Multi-cultural expressions
In anticipation of this trip to visit close friends of mine, I did my homework, so to some extent there were no great surprises. However, there is always room to be amazed, and this was most clearly demonstrated by my close encounter with that enduring symbol of human ‘achievement’ – the skyscraper. In this case it was the jaw-dropping, awesomely-elegant Burj Khalifa [1]. Being afraid of heights I was, on balance, pleased the tower was still unopened to the public, for it mercifully resolved my inner tension to experience the views from nearly one kilometre up in the air, with the sheer terror this would undoubtedly cause me. However, ‘the Tower’ draws parallels with and generates paradoxes worth exploring when considering the meaning of Dubai, [2] situated as a place of interconnection between Christians [3] and Moslems, not to mention the vast numbers of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and the myriad other faiths and worldviews that make up Dubai’s cosmopolitan population [4]. Never before have I walked through streets and shopping malls and encountered such a mix of ethnicity and social make-up. However, the apparent multicultural freedom this Emirate portrays masks, as one may suspect, deep-rooted traditional attitudes and behaviours, ever-evolving through the ebb-and-flow of cultural change.
On arrival I immediately came to understand what motivates Dubai, whilst passing through passport control. The Emirati official could barely disguise his disgust that I was not coming to ‘invest’ economically by staying at one of the many thousand(s)-pound-a-night hotels. To what extent is Dubai dependent on Western capital and investment, or is it propped-up by its neighbouring oil-rich cousin, Abu Dhabi, I mused, as we sped past the soaring skyscrapers lining the Sheik Zayed highway, on our way to ‘Arabian Ranches’, deep in desert-fronting suburbia. The lights of the night-blackened buildings twinkled in unison with the stars (if one could see past the light pollution) and I further wondered how this might serve as a ripe environmental case-study critique. Where does the energy come from to keep a place like Dubai running in turbo mode? [5] Of course, the economic toll of the recent global recession was to be seen in the dozens of luxury residential estates sitting dormant in the shimmering sands like pre-inhabited ghost-towns silently screaming for human presence to fill their chandeliered rooms; a stark reminder of the expression “over-extending oneself” came to mind!

Full article PDF: Sheik-ing the Towers of Faith.

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