Another first: I visited a mosque.
The Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai is open to non-Islamic people, which is a rarity. It includes an attached cultural center offering impressive public programs. Having never been inside a mosque, I figured a tour might be interesting.
As did 75 other people. We removed our shoes, covered our heads, shuffled in, sat on the floor and listened to a British docent who's been living in Dubai for 21 years explain fundamentals of Islam.
This mosque was completed in 1979 and holds up to 1300 people. It's government supported, so the funding is secure. Worshipers stand side by side without gaps to prevent evil from entering. There is no VIP section as all are considered equal - the dignitary and the homeless man stand together. Men and women are separated to avoid distractions. The head of the mosque, the Imam, calls everyone to prayer.
We were told about the five pillars of Islam which are the foundation for Muslim life. Unsurprisingly, our docent emphasized the peace of the religion and repeated a few times that they have nothing to do with radicals.
Shahadah - the declaration of faith
Salat - 5x daily prayer facing Mecca, beginning before dawn and ending after sundown
Zakāt - alms-giving as an obligation to help lift up those less fortunate; the tithe is 2.5%
Sawm - fasting (ritual, repentance or ascetic); obligatory in the month of Ramadan (thinking about not eating or drinking water for 12 hours makes my head hurt!)
Hajj - the pilgrimage to Mecca (in Saudi Arabia; birthplace of Muhammad), which every able-bodied Muslim is required to do once in his/her life
Missing a prayer or fast requires the believer to make up for it, so there's a lot of mindfulness involved.
We learned more about abayas (women's garb) and how they're not as hot as they seem, and the dishdashes men wear (that cool black band on the head was originally used to corral camels so it was highly practical).
There is the washing ritual, a key preparation for the faith. This explains why the restrooms are constantly flooded with water. Wash hands three times, mouth three times, nose three times, face three times. Wash hands up to elbows three times, once over the hair and behind the ears. Feet and ankles, three times each. If the cycle is broken, you must start again. That's a lot of water in the desert...
At the end of the day, the basic tenets of doing good, helping others, being mindful, improving oneself and repenting for misdeeds is universal - and as a Christian I see the similarities.
I learned a lot more than I included here, and I know my interpretation is pretty sophomoric, but it was helpful to have a glimpse into a much-aligned faith. It also reinforced to me why I'd fail in Muslim society due to my overly independent and often stubborn behavior, along with an occasional lack of discipline and good judgement. Let's just leave it at that. :-)