Noire Miami Travel Series: The Shining Light in Sharjah, UAE: Magic from 8,000 Miles Away
Traveling to a country where the culture, language, religion, and way of life is different than ours gives us a more worldly view and opens us up to new experiences.
Noire Miami: [nwar] adj. French for black. Black Miami’s source of things to do, people to see, and places to go.
In addition to helping you keep your social life intact and keeping you in the loop of what’s hot, Noire Miami introduces our feature series that highlights things of interest to the black community beyond the social life i.e. people, lifestyle, and travel.
In the first Noire Miami Travel Series, we highlighted the $40 billion African-American travel market and the need to gain newfound cultural experiences by adding international travel to our travel agenda. First Lady Michelle Obama also recently encouraged Americans to travel internationally and gain worldly experience beyond American borders to understand different people, languages, and cultures. In part 2 of the Noire Miami Travel Series, I share my American experience of traveling abroad to a culture dominated by Islam.
I recently had the wonderful opportunity of visiting the United Arab Emirates (UAE) again, and this time I had the chance to travel with three of my girlfriends. The first time I visited the UAE I traveled solo, which was awesome enough traveling internationally alone, but this time I thought it would enhance my cultural experience to travel with girlfriends who are each well traveled and could add their own cultural dynamics to this trip. We spent most of our time in Sharjah, the third largest emirate in the UAE just 15 miles from Dubai, which proved that there’s more to the UAE than just Dubai. I walked away with the conclusion that Dubai is where you party and play, Abu Dhabi is where the money is made, but Sharjah is where you get cultured!
Sharjah had recently been designated the Islamic Culture Capital of 2014 and would prove it to the world with the opening of “Clusters of Light,” a grand theatrical production with more than 300 actors from Arab and foreign countries. As four American women, being in Sharjah to experience this cultural celebration would challenge our American views on Islam and stretch our minds beyond our comfort zone. We traveled to UAE knowing that certain American views included the notion that this was an extremely conservative region where a woman’s position was in the shadows of a man and that Americans held certain views of the Islamic religion. We left Sharjah gaining a newfound appreciation for the culture, the moral fiber of the people, and their openness to Americans.
Stephanie Richardson (@afrodiva) traveled along with me on this trip and shares her thoughts: “I was impressed with how culturally rich Sharjah is and how much pride the people take in their culture and in their values. It’s fascinating how they want the world to know more about the UAE and their faith.” Stephanie also marveled at the fashion experience she had in Sharjah. “I never expected to find beautiful fashions that offered the uniqueness of the region’s style but also fit my American tastes.”
That was the objective of the “Clusters of Light” production - to change the world’s negative perceptions of Islam and provide a true picture of its human values as being a religion that represents brotherhood, love, peace, and tolerance. More impressive was the lengths that Sharjah went to in bringing this production to fruition. From building an open-air semi-circular Roman-influenced amphitheater on the man made Al Majaz Island built over an area of more than 77,000 sq ft and costing a little more than $38 million (USD) and planning 21 revitalization and development projects in celebration of its selection as the Islamic Culture Capital for 2014, Sharjah was on a quest to preserve and promote culture throughout the region.
The opening ceremony of the “Clusters of Light” was truly a sight to see from a youthful group of musicians welcoming guests in traditional Arabic music to the fanciful garments worn by the women and even the ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammed Al Qasimi, pulling up to the amphitheater in an ivory white Rolls Royce without the huge entourage of security. The 90 minute oratorio (large musical composition) blended sound, lighting, and music in a spectacular fashion with more than 400 animated lights, 120 sound speakers, and 21 projectors that took a cinematic journey back thousands of years to the times of darkness, struggle, and challenges that led to the beginnings of Islam, its early accomplishments, and a narration of the biography of Prophet Mohammad from birth to death.
In addition to being awed by the magnificent production of the “Clusters of Light,” we were courted to a week long cultural excursion of Sharjah that showcased its heritage and culture. We participated in the Heart of Sharjah tour that included the Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah Heritage Museum, the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization, and one of its oldest mosque. We also explored other offerings in the region from doing a desert safari and riding a camel, venturing into Abu Dhabi and being wowed by its grandeur, visiting various mosques in traditional Abaya clothing, exploring Dubai’s nightlife to the surprise of a Jamrock party that was reminiscent of Jamaica, and expanding our palates with the savory foods of the Middle East. The warmth and hospitality we experienced, the high moral values of the people, the safety of walking around without having to be on guard, and even the cleanliness of the UAE makes this a great cultural destination to add to your bucket list. Strong in my Christian faith, it's also imperative to respect and gain a cultural understanding of other cultures and their faiths as part of our call to spread universal love to our brothers. Moral of the story!
Ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammed Al Qasimi and Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi
Heart of Sharjah: Sharjah Art Foundation
Clusters of Light stage production
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