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Faith, fun and amusement parks

Published Jun 28, 2013 03:53pm


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enter image description hereIt 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.

Author Image

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

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (21) Closed

thedailyjudge Jun 28, 2013 05:54pm

The Holy Quran another fantasy-based amusement park, huh? Like Disneyland? It's going to be a little more violent, though.

Hasnain T Jun 28, 2013 06:50pm

Very well written ma'am. Agree on a whole lot of the points you made including the unjustness of the whole system. May Allah give us all guidance.

Samar B Jun 28, 2013 07:03pm

Very, very interesting development. We have seen Islamic comic books, movies, plays and other art forms. Should a mass-entertainment such as a theme-park based on Islam be scrutinized for hypocrisy in not adhering to Islamic values? Then where would any of us stand on such a Islamic-values-barometer - would all of us not fall short (some miserably off the scale)?? The softer face of Islam is as Islamic as its hardline face, and should be encouraged.

Atika Jun 28, 2013 08:25pm

Extremely well put. The essence is what's important and if they can't deliver that then there is no point to this theme park..."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...Similarly, ignored will be the Holy Quran

Parvez Jun 28, 2013 11:06pm

You are looking at this proposed park as a religious venture but I feel its a commercial venture using religion as the theme............... to be honest, religion has and is being used for much worse agendas.

Muhammad Awais Jun 29, 2013 12:21am

Mash'Allah excellent thoughts brought into practice by Dubai authority to make a park of Faith and Fun. This will represent our culture on international level.

jaffar sorathia Jun 29, 2013 08:30am

Very well written, hope it will wake up muslim ummah

MUHAMMED ATIF Jun 29, 2013 02:50pm


rizzy Jun 29, 2013 02:58pm

author is misguided and ignorant of the fiqh of islaam what is halaal and haraam.islams ideology is securely based upon on tawheed and what opposes it -shirk.

M.R Jun 29, 2013 08:35pm

@thedailyjudge: I suggest you read the Quran at least once before making ludicrous assumptions.

Naveen Jun 29, 2013 11:07pm

hmm... Smart idea. Religion is good stuff for business.

Khalid Jun 30, 2013 02:37am

@Muhammad Awais: Our culture?. I guess you mean it will represent our religion. Muslims of each country have a different culture and I thought I should remind you that culture and religion are two completely different things.

BRR Jun 30, 2013 09:38am

Will there be a section for "killing blasphemers"? Will there be a section for throwing stones at adulterers? Will there be a section for breaking TVs and other things that are haram?

Sajjad Jun 30, 2013 01:18pm

Actually muslims are the biggest opportunity for the tourist industry. UK's Alton Towers will be having a muslim only day and it appears tickets are sold out two months early.
Mecca will soon be not far from how Las Vegas is without gambling and alcohol. But at the same time, as muslims grow economically they go to Mecca every year for Hajj and maybe 3 times for Ummrah each year. Clearly we muslims need a place we can visit or travel to, as such what Dubai is doing is not that bad and Saudi is preparing Mecca to deal with the influx. That historical places are being buldozed over, i don't think this is that much of a problem.

Shabbir Jun 30, 2013 02:42pm

@jaffar sorathia: Dear Jaffar, I think we need to redefine Ummah. I have a question, if this is Muslim Ummah then why we need visa under stringent rules and regulations for Saudi Arabi and UAE.

Tahir A Jun 30, 2013 02:49pm

If this is all in a quest to open and unlock the severe shackles of Islamic conservatism, then hopefully it is a commendable springboard for more enlightenment.

I do see revival of Ata Turk which is much needed in the whole Muslim world.

Rabia Jun 30, 2013 03:36pm

Well said, Rafia.

Reader Jun 30, 2013 07:49pm


Islam is more than the concepts of Tauhid and shirk. Believing in Taudid and opposing shirk, is not a sufficient condition to get into Jannah. Along with faith, righteous deeds matter as well.

Humility, and treating others (including employees) with fairness, equity and justice - are central precepts in Islam. The Quran calls for moderation in spending too.

The author does not seem to be condemning everything in the sheikhdoms. How is she misguided? You certainly can try to find flaws in her reasoning - but to make a convincing point, you need more than an assertion.


Ron Luce Jun 30, 2013 08:05pm

Isn't there a high risk of accidentially saying or doing something offensive to Islam in such an amusement park? Especially children doing so?

Asad Jul 01, 2013 05:58am

Well i guess their market is conservative musilms. Most of whom can't enjoy clean and sometimes not so clean fun whether it be amusement park or something else because of their conservative views/lifestyle. But they are humans and their hearts like us sinners also desires amusement and fun. I say good for the sheikhs of emirates. They know how to extract dinars for a pious walet!

Shyam Jul 01, 2013 01:10pm

@Atika: but thats the whole point, there is nothing to get so serious about "religion". Let people wander, seek, find and follow the truth themselves. Even kids when left with advise and allowed to make mistakes, learn from them. And it is when they realize, they learn better. This seems like a niche idea, every religion can do this and we all can learn from such parks about other religions.