Friday, September 27, 2013

Problems in the UAE???

Once, Farook invited me to have dinner with some Citizens of the UAE. They asked me, 'Have you had any problems here?' I said, 'Only a very few, far fewer than in any other country where I've lived.'

Farook said I was very stupid. 'When you with Citizens, you say, "No problems in UAE. UAE perfect." You say there problems, you make big trouble for yourself.'

(In private, Farook says there are lots of problems, but when he's around a Citizen, he says 'UAE perfect. No problems at all.' Even Farook's own cousin thinks Farook is stupid; Farook's cousin said that everyone knows that, this side of paradise, there will always be problems, so Farook's cousin thought my answer was better than Farook's.)

Anyway, as someone who does not drive, I am very happy to see that Dubai is doing all it can to try to create the world's best public transportation system.

The biggest problem with Dubai is that it has a four-season climate: 1) Very Warm; 2) Extremely Hot; 3) Absolutely Unbearable; and 4) Summer.

So Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Ruler of Dubai, paid for air-conditioned bus terminals, so one can wait for the bus in a 22 degree shelter.

Unfortunately, if you aren't standing outside in the heat, the buses won't stop. So, whenever we saw a bus coming, we all had to go out in the heat until we saw if it was our bus or not.

Now, Dubai has put monitors in many of the bus stops (and metro stations) that tell which bus will be next, so one can wait in the air conditioned shelter until the right bus comes.

And Dubai has a metro that makes what was once an expensive taxi journey a cheap and faster metro journey.

I have seen few places that go to such trouble to provide everyone great public transportation. Most places I've lived, the rulers figure the people who have to take public transportation are NOT the kind of people who contribute baksheesh to the Rulers, so public transportation is cheap, uncomfortable, and unreliable.

But in Dubai, public transport is air conditioned and comfortable.

Farook said, 'Don't give the sheikh any credit. You have to pay every time you use a bus or the metro.'

But most places don't provide such good public transportation as Dubai, the Rulers put the money in their own pockets, or divert money to the pockets of the kinds of people who can pay big baksheesh. Or wage senseless wars.

But Dubai tries to take care of the people who have to use public transport.

And I greatly appreciate that, even if Farook doesn't.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Belated Eid Mubarak

Growing up in Christendom, I knew some Christians who went to church regularly, but didn't really know much about Christianity. Now that I'm in Dar al Islam, I find some Muslims don't seem to know Islam very well.

Islam follows a lunar calendar. The lunar month is approximately 29½ days, so, every Islamic month (and the months may be a few days different in different countries) the Moonsighting Committees must go out just before sunset on the 29th day of their Islamic month and look for the new crescent moon right after sunset. If they see it, then it's the first of the next month; if they don't, it's the 30th of the same month (days in Islam start at sunset), and it's the first of the next month the following sunset. So every Islamic month must have 29 or 30 days.

But I've heard Muslims say the new month starts whenever the Moonsighting Committee sees the moon, so the month could be as short as 25 days or as long as 35, which is wrong. Mostly.

This year, the Eid Holiday for government workers started on the 29th of Ramadan. Then, on the 28th of Ramadan, someone said, 'I saw the moon. It's Eid,' which would have meant a 28 day Ramadan. Farook called and said, 'Eid Mubarak. It's Eid. Fasting is over and we go to say the Eid prayers tomorrow morning.'

Of course, the Islamic scholars said that Ramadan must have at least 29 days, so the reports of seeing the moon on the 28th were wrong.

I was talking about this, and how the Moonsighting Committee can only go out on the evening of the 29th of the month, when someone told me, 'Not always.'

It was more than 30 years ago. I have no idea why, but someone with great influence (in Arabic, wasta) wanted Ramadan to start. It was only the 27th or 28th of the month before Ramadan, but wasta can sometimes trump normal rules.

The Islamic scholars had to say that it was NOT the 27th or 28th, but the 29th of the month, because the Moonsighting Committee had incorrectly failed to see the moon for one or two months, and they'd had to go out and they'd seen the moon. So the next day would be Ramadan, and everyone would have to fast. Restaurants must not open.

Of course, no one thought the Moonsighting Committee could go out that night, so no one was ready for Ramadan to start, and the police drove all over, sirens waking everyone up at 2 am, and megaphones announcing that it was Ramadan and everyone must have the early meal called sohour that takes place about 2½ hours before sunrise.

So, in fact, Ramadan can start somewhat randomly if the King insists and the Islamic scholars all agree. But that hasn't happened for more than 30 years.

And Ramadan must last at least 29 days, so there is no way Eid can come early.

But many Muslims believed that this Ramadan was only going to have 28 days, and that the scholars could declare Eid anytime they wanted to. Which they can't.