Even though I've lived in Muslim-majority countries for several years now, there is still a lot I don't know about Islam. You can pick up quite a bit through that phenomenon of cultural osmosis I talked about before, and of course I've also read some books on the subject, but my picture of that religion remained incomplete.
My knowledge is still incomplete, but not nearly as much as before, thanks to a visit to Al-Noor Mosque in Sharjah. Unlike some other countries in the Middle East, the UAE does not allow non-Muslims to visit their mosques. There are three exceptions: Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi (one of the largest mosques in the world), a mosque in Jumeirah (Dubai), and just recently, Al-Noor Mosque in Sharjah. Every Monday at 10am, they run an information session inside the mosque meant especially for non-Muslim visitors and residents in the UAE.
Now, being a Mormon, I know a thing or two about presenting one's religion to unbelievers. And the workers at Al-Noor did a fantastic job. A nice lady gave a one-hour presentation about Islam and included information about the five pillars, a demonstration of how they pray, and a run-down of the national dress. Then she took questions. She wasn't pushy, or self-righteous, or haughty, or disdainful of us foreigners. It was all carried out in the spirit of mutual respect and learning. At the end of the session, they gave us water, dates, and a picture of us at the mosque that they took with their own camera and then printed out for us. Basically, they were the nicest people ever.
While Al-Noor didn't have a Putting On Special Clothes Room, they did deck us out in abayas before we could enter the mosque. I believe that I am obligated to post a picture of myself in the abaya.
Anyway, the mosque visit was great and I would recommend it to anyone. Every Monday, 10am, Al-Noor Mosque in Sharjah. Ready, set, go!