It is going to be called The Holy Quran Park. Last Friday, June 21, 2013, officials in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates announced that the city would be constructing a theme park that will allow tourists to witness through rides and gardens, some of the content of the Holy Quran. According to Mohammad Noor Mashroom, Dubai Municipality’s Director of Projects, the park will be ready to go into operation sometime in September of next year and will cost $7.4 million dollars.
The sixty hectare Holy Quran Park will be located in an area known as Al-Khawaneej. Its features will include “the miracles of the Quran experienced through a variety of surprises by those visiting the Park”. Some of these surprises will be presented while park goers walk through an air-conditioned tunnel so they do not have to experience the searing heat of the desert. Other plans for the park include an “Umrah Corner” as well as gardens said to feature the 54 species of plants mentioned in the Quran. The Park will also have fountains, walking and biking paths and an outdoor theater. In addition to constructing The Holy Quran Theme Park, Dubai also recently bid to construct the “Angry Birds Theme Park” (built to emulate the popular game) and also the world’s largest Ferris wheel.
For decades now, Muslim public, especially Pakistanis have been eager to gobble up all that Dubai has to offer. Exhibiting the most voracious consumerism, the bearded and veiled and the clean shaven and unveiled have all delighted in cramming designer purses and French perfumes and British chocolates into their already bursting shopping bags. When offered by an Arab Emirate, eager Pakistanis conclude, shopping, however gluttonous must be religious permissible. For those in doubt, every Dubai Mall boasts not just shops and bars and ice cream parlors, but also mosques and prayer rooms.
Nor have many in the Muslim world objected to the destruction of historical sites in Mecca and Medina, the actual places (and not amusement park replicas) that are mentioned in the Holy Quran. A garish clock tower atop a tacky mall now stares down at pilgrims while they complete the rites of Hajj. All around them are shops selling souvenirs and trinkets. If Saudi Arabia’s misguided anti iconisation has led to the destruction of that which is historically important in documenting the history of Islam, now Dubai is insisting that what is left will be the bike rides and carousels in an amusement park.
Muslims everywhere have, in the decade of war and imperial overreach become astute experts at decrying the decadent debauchery of Western society. Indeed, colorful examples of just that are presented in every Friday sermon, in countless newspaper articles and television talk shows. One contradiction against this collective lament against Western debauchery has been the free pass given to the purveyors of amusements and entertainments in Dubai whose appropriation of them would otherwise be considered a flattery of the same West that Muslims love to detest. Like the hawkers that sell designer replicas on street corners, the fact that nearly everything Dubai peddles is a crude copy of someone else’s concept is no problem. Dubai takes pride in offering these Western approximations, and all those who visit them lap them up with a duped and greedy gullibility.
The Holy Quran Park is the latest in the recipe of replication. Eliding over the fact that theme parks, from Universal Studios to Walt Disney World are primarily entertainment complexes, this latest idea again aims to put the gloss of faith on what is basically a form of corporatised amusement. While the plants and shrubs mentioned in the Holy Quran are going to be showcased for the pious and amusement seeking, the messages of equality will be ignored. The same plants will be watered and tended to by workers, many of them Muslim who live in abject conditions, wait months for compensation and are enslaved to their sponsoring companies. Similarly, ignored will be the Holy Quran’s messages of frugality and equanimity, of not spending piles of cash on baubles and burgers. All those uncomfortable truths and prescriptions are unlikely to fit into the tourist oriented aims of a theme park.
According to the reports released this week, the sponsors and builders of the Holy Quran Theme Park are selling their idea as a means to bring more Muslim tourists to Dubai. In its loud homage to faith and its pretense at piety the Holy Quran Park they hope, will cover up with amusement all that is unfair and unjust.
Rafia Zakaria is an attorney and human rights activist. She is a columnist for DAWN Pakistan and a regular contributor for Al Jazeera America, Dissent, Guernica and many other publications.
She is the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (Beacon Press 2015). She tweets @rafiazakaria
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