Islam is the official religion of Dubai, as one is reminded five times a day when the modern-day call to prayer is transmitted through loudspeakers at the top of countless minarets of mosques around the city – the plan in this fast expanding place is to have a mosque within 500 yards of any location. But the people of Dubai are tolerant of other religions and on numerous occasions the ruling family has donated plots of land for the building of churches of various denominations.
We visited Dubai last April to be with our son who had been in hospital. Many friends at St Margaret’s and elsewhere had been praying for Paul and on finding him well on the way to recovery we thought we would like to visit a church to give thanks for this. The guidebook mentioned various churches, but was somewhat vague on exact location and the locals have a rather haphazard way of describing addresses. So in the cool of the Thursday evening, the temperature being a mere 75 degrees, we set off for where there was a church marked on the map. After walking for about a mile and passing St Thomas’s Orthodox Church we came to St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, joined the people streaming in and discovered a Mass was about to start.
With a congregation of 400 or 500 the church was about half full. Most were from the Indian sub-continent (the source of much of Dubai’s workforce) but there were a number of Europeans and others from different parts of the world. Large screens at each side of the nave showed in English the hymns, readings and the words of the liturgy. When these were not needed, an image of the Filipino priest at the altar was projected. The Peace was passed by means of a nod with hands clasped together. Communion was administered from several stations. The service was in effect the equivalent of a Saturday evening Mass elsewhere in the world, as the Sabbath is celebrated on a Friday in Dubai because people are at work on Sundays.
Making an unscheduled visit to Dubai meant that we missed the St George’s Day Dinner at St Margaret’s, but we were still able to mark the occasion as Paul had arranged for us to attended a St George’s Day picnic at the British Embassy the next day. We sat beneath shady trees on the lawn of the ambassador’s residence being entertained by the Prince of Wales’s Division military band, resplendent in their crimson tunics (in that heat)!
We all stood for the National Anthem which was followed by a number of patriotic tunes with a Last Night of the Proms flavour. When it came to Land of Hope and Glory we stood again to join in and waved the little St George’s flags we had been given. After changing into more casual clothes, the band gave us some jazz and music from the shows - ending with an informal march round the gardens with several dozen children following in Pied Piper fashion.
Being so far from home, it had been good to worship with fellow Christians from around the world on one day and then the following day celebrate a very English occasion.