x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Ask Ali: Arabic poetry and the building of mosques

Ali Al Saloom offers tips and advice for living and working in the UAE.

Dear Ali: Is poetry big in UAE culture? I am looking for inspiring quotes from Arabic poets in both Arabic and English. Could you please help me? MJ, Abu Dhabi

Dear MJ: I would recommend you read poems from my dear friend, Wael Al-Sayegh on www.waelalsayegh.com. He is one of the best poets in the region who also writes in Arabic and English. Other sources would be the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage at www.adach.ae or in the library of Zayed University, Abu Dhabi.

Arabic poetry shaped the way we speak Arabic today. Despite its many dialects the Arabic language developed over time and it is truly a poetic language. Years ago, once a poem was spoken, it was learnt by heart and passed on by word of mouth. It quickly conquered all hearts, ears and tongues with its vivid style, and most of all, fired imaginations just as the Greeks did with their myths. For us Arabs, poetry offers some insight into our lives in the desert. For instance, Urwa ibn al-Ward wrote a poem called My camp is the guest's camp.

However, Arabic poetry has always been perceived as the diwan al-arab (the repository of the Arabs), precisely as a "resort" in times of sorrow and happiness, of defeat and victory. It expresses our cultural beliefs, values, visions, ambitions, history and sense of identity. Throughout history and in particular in times of conflict, Arab-speaking people have turned to poetry. One example is Khalid A. Sulaiman's book Palestine and Modern Arab Poetry that combines the Palestinian - Israeli conflict with Arabic and English poems. I wouldn't be surprised to find poems that discuss and question the Arab Spring events of 2011.

Nowadays, poetry reawakens our Arab traditions, regardless of time or place. One can often find famous quotes from our father Sheikh Zayed who was a true poet as well as a great leader.


Dear Ali: When a mosque is being constructed, at what point is it considered "ready for use" and are only Muslims allowed to enter? Is there a "blessing/initiation ceremony" that signifies the mosque is ready for use for worship? Thanks. KP, Ireland

Dear KP: When it comes to places of worship we tend to concentrate on the exterior - some mosques are not that big and some are huge, with very detailed interiors and exteriors. However, they all act as an Islamic place of worship that needs to be built first.

In general, building a mosque requires not only construction but also four other things: the right intention, a minaret, a fountain and a prayer hall. Let's start with the right intention: it should be done in a halal way and with halal means for it to fulfil its purpose. According to our beloved Prophet Muhammad, building a mosque belongs to one of the good deeds that will last even after one's death if the intention is sincere and halal, because people will keep there to worship God and this will contribute to a "chain reaction" of more good deeds.

The minaret itself represents the highest point of a mosque from where one can hear the muezzin who calls to prayer, the fountain or bathroom is necessary for performing the ablution - the purification ritual so that the prayers can be undertaken appropriately and the prayer hall (musallah) is separated into two sections, one for men and one for women. The first call for prayer in a newly-built mosque is an invitation for Muslims to come and pray.

And after people pray in it for the first time, the mosque will remain a blessed place. The call to prayer, the athan, is what you hear five times a day in our country. It's a blessing to have this daily reminder for us Muslims to turn to God and fulfil our obligation to pray.


Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.