Saturday, January 12, 2019

Islamic Culture Tour

A tour company that we have used a few times was offering an Islamic Culture tour. Given we make an effort to learn about the culture/traditions of the countries we are living in this tour was on our radar. A date came up that worked and off Richard and I went! We met at the Museum of Islamic Art and hopped aboard a bus that took us to Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque (which is Qatar's State Mosque - aka biggest mosque in the country). We drive past it regularly and have always wondered if we could go in. At night, it is beautifully lit up and sits like a beacon atop a hill.

We learned on our ride there, that everyone is welcome to visit but they need to be part of a tour/have an appointment to visit. The first stop was for all the ladies to get an abaya.

We didn't enter the mosque through the ladies entrance. At prayer time, ladies pray from a balcony upstairs and men pray downstairs. The abaya is necessary as women are so beautiful and must not draw attention to themselves/distract others from prayers. So when entering the mosque since modesty is essential, the abaya is the easiest way to be modest.

We walked around the back to get some shade while learning about the religion, then we continued around to the front entrance. Outside the entrance is an open courtyard. Behind this courtyard is the skyline of the city. One must turn their back to the modern world to enter the mosque. This is a visual reminder to stay focused when in the mosque and praying.

Some of the entry ways into the mosque had ornate iron-work. Over the main mosque there are 28 domes and around the courtyard there are 65 domes. There was something significant about why that number of domes was chosen, but we can't remember what it was.

Once inside the mosque, there is a courtyard. This is for overflow on days where lots of people coming to pray (ie holidays). The main mosque can hold 11,000 men and this courtyard can hold nearly 20,000 men (recall I mentioned the women have their own private air-conditioned balcony).

Our guide pointed out where the library was and what some of the different rooms off the courtyard where. I was busy taking photos, so I didn't pay a whole lot of attention. I do remember him talking about how the religion is based on the phases of the moon. The start of each month is determined by the first appearance of a sliver of the crescent moon. Holidays are based on this and lunar cycles can vary a bit (so Richard has some local holidays marked on the calendar by "estimated" dates but the exact date won't be determined until the start of that lunar month). Next we crossed the courtyard, removed our shoes, and entered the central hall.

We were told about the stars within the stained glass windows. There are two within the mosque that were put in wrong (don't know of it was a true mistake or done on purpose), but they serve as reminders that man can not be perfect only God (Allah) can be. There were multiple beautifully carved doors that entered into the main hall.

In the center of hall is a small alcove. This is where the call of prayer is made from (and broadcasted via speakers from the tall minaret).

The center of the alcove had this glowing/heaven word.

To the sides of the alcove were two clocks. They stated the current date and time, as well as listed all the prayer times for the day (one was in English and the other in Arabic). While required to pray five times a day, each prayer time was a window in which it can be done (so if one were in a business meeting, they would not have to leave for prayer time as long as it was done before the next call to prayer).

While in the main hall, we sat down on the floor and were able to ask all kinds of questions (ie the answer to why women where abayas I told you up above). We then had to leave as we had another stop on the tour. On our way out, we got some more courtyard/minaret photos from different angles.

We then headed out a side gate to our waiting bus.

Our next stop was the Sheikh Abdulla BinZaid Al Mahmoud Islamic Cultural Center (I wrote about here and post photos of it from different angles regularly). Today, we went inside! We started off in a majli. We were all served coffee (and it is rude to refuse....that's a toughie for someone who doesn't like coffee), we then moved over to sitting area. Here (being the only male on the tour), Richard became the guest of honor. We learned about how the seating works as new guests come in, based on their importance to the host/event. We then headed out into the main hall that had different infographics about multiple aspects of Islam. We stopped at each one for our guide to go in depth into the information. I found this one the most interesting.

It shows all the major prophets in three major religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). In fact, if you look at the dot second from the right at the top - Jesus is listed and recognized as a very important prophet. Both Jesus and Mohammad are descendants of Abraham....I can't figure out which cousin that makes them. About the time we finished all the infographics, it was the midday call to prayer. We were invited to enter the mosque and observe. Richard and one guide went into the main hall and a female guide took us ladies to the woman's balcony. Much quicker than a Catholic sermon! That concluded our tour (we were given a small gift from the Culture Center and I was allowed to keep my abaya). We were then dropped back off at the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA).

We opted to eat lunch at the cafe and then explore the museum. This was my second time going (I have been once before with AWA). From my tour, we were told the museum was designed by architect Ieoh Ming Pei. He had actually come out of retirement to compete this final project. He visited many mosques to come up with the design elements. One major feature of most mosques is a dome. From the outside you don't necessarily see the dome, once inside it is very visible.

The museum is quite large with three levels that have exhibits and a fourth level with an exclusive restaurant (both the cafe and restaurant have views of the water).

Inside we admired some real/once used chainmeal armor (for both man and horse). I was told in order to build up the endurance needed to wear such heavy armor lots of polo was played (don't believe me - check out the history of polo!).

There was lots of sparkly jewelry and ornamental objects. Only my falcon turned out...the colors you see are from rubies, emeralds, sapphire, onyx, diamonds, etc.

The next room had a HUGE rug that was a diplomatic gift from one kingdom to another (I didn't take a picture of the fact card). Above Richard's head you see a wall hung rug. This rug was made with threads of silver (as in the metal) weaved in.

There is an entire ancient war section, but it was closed off that day. There is a big exhibit on the development of the Arabic language ranging from ancients scripts/scrolls to how the language was incorporated into art (pottery, metal work, etc). There was also lots of tile depicting different aspects of life. I think this one was about clams/oysters and pearls.

After looking at most the exhibits, we headed to the iconic walkway between the museum and its education center. If you have seen photos of Doha from outside this blog, I bet you have seen one similar to this one!

The skyline through a single archway.

It is such a wonderful vantage point to see the whole city skyline.

Obligatory selfie!

Turning back around on the other side of the reflecting pools is another set of archways facing the Souq Waqif direction.

There were lots of flying and roosting pigeons in this area!

The MIA also has a park/green area going around a small inlet. At the far point is some art (I think it looks a the front of a ship).

The inlet from a souq side archway.

Richard and I decided to take a stroll around the inlet. It provided the opportunity to get a photos of some Dhow boats and the skyline. When the architect was designing the museum, he built it to be an island connecting the old (Souq) with the new (modern downtown). Another thing to note about the contrast to American skyscrapers where every business is clamoring to have their logo on the building. Very few buildings have logo's on them.

When we got to a point on our stroll, we were stopped and told we couldn't go any further. There was a movie/TV shoot going on. I don't recognize any of the actors...but that was pretty cool to happen upon.

As we turned back, we say the sun was beginning to get lower in the sky. We'd better head home before the kids get off the bus! It was a fun day and we learned a lot of information. I totally recommend the culture tour (and a museum visit) for those who come to Doha.

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