Even God Benefits from the F1.

grand mosque gets into the formula one bahrain

The Formula One brings in enthusiastic tourists who slap down millions of dollars in the host countries.  In Bahrain, between races, or when the spectators’ palms and pockets are empty, this ad points out there is another place to visit which offers free Love – the Al-Fateh or Grand Mosque.

Recently, an Italian friend was visiting Bahrain.  A group of us met at the Grand Mosque, left our sandals at the door and donned the required abayas and head scarves.  Our guide, an Egyptian woman named Ghada, gave us the half-hour, building tour.  Knowing my friend loves the Virgin Mary, I asked Ghada to explain Mary’s place within Islam.

Looking at our smiling faces, Ghada suggested, “Why don’t we sit?”

We made a circle of chairs and she pushed up her glasses, smiled and set her hands in her lap.

“In Islam, Mary, Mariam in Arabic, is considered to be a very righteous woman just like Fatima, the Prophet Mohammed’s (PBUH) daughter.  Mariam is the only women mentioned by name in the Koran.”

“Can you tell us how many times she is named in the Koran,” I asked.

“In the Koran, there is an entire surah (chapter) about Mariam, number Nineteen.  She is mentioned about forty-five times in the Koran.”

“More times than in the Bible,” I added.

Ghada nodded in agreement.  “She was the perfect woman, if not the greatest woman of all time.”

We had a lively discussion about Mary’s virginity, divinity, and dreams.  Several among the group made positive comments about Ghada’s informed and open views.

“Because I want to understand what all people believe, I have read the Bible, both the Old and the New Testament.  After reading them, I still felt more drawn to Islam,” she said.

As we ended our visit, she told us, “You are an unusual group.  Normally, I do not have such discussions.”

“It is because we are women, and we all love Mary.”

The Formula One, which attracts people from around the globe, is a great opportunity for us to meet others who share a common passion.  I go to the F1 to watch the people as much as the race.  I believe events like this help break down cultural stereotypes.

Every time I have visited the Grand Mosque, I have had a delightful docent and have learned something wonderful about Islam.  Visiting the mosque is an excellent way to understand Christianity’s, Islam’s and Judaism’s common beliefs.  It is a quieter venue that, similar to the F1, highlights our common humanity.

ABOUT THE GRAND MOSQUE

The Grand Mosque in Juffair is one of the places I always take my visitors.  It is often the one chance people visiting the Middle East have to see a mosque.   Most mosques in the Gulf limit admittance to Muslims.  The al-Fateh Mosque is open to people of all faiths.  During Ramadan, al-Fateh hosts free events.  During the rest of the year, it is easy to pop in any time and find a multi-lingual docent who will take you on a tour.

There is a library and free materials about Islam.  A good representative for Islam, Ghada has written several interesting pamphlets which are available at the mosque.

Women must wear an abaya and a head scarf to enter.  The mosque has a closet full you can borrow.  Or you can bring your own.

The Grand Mosque is opposite the Gulf Hotel Complex.  Sitting near the sea, it is easy to see from the main ring road.  The trip can be combined with visits to the new Islamic library, the National Museum and the new, National Theater.

Touring Bahrain? Get Your STREETSMART Guide

You are invited to the Streetsmart Bahrain Book launch party.

Yeah!  The party I have been waiting for.

My friend, author Melissa van Maasdyk, promised she would have her Bahrain travel guide ready before the Formula One in April.  And she did it.

Sunday night was the official reception.  As we drove up to the soon-to-be opened, second wing of the Kempinski Grand and Ixir Hotel, we waited for the line of dignitaries’ cars to be valeted.

“Who are all these people?” Mojo asked.

Arab men dressed in elegant white thobes, African women in long gowns, European ambassadors in business suits, and glam women in high-heels all hurried into the lobby.

“Melissa seems to know everybody in Bahrain,” I said.  “The UN people love her book so much they asked the Director General of UNIDO to speak tonight.  Some must be with him.   And there is Debbie and Mohammed,” I said, pointing at the Bentley pulling in behind us.

Mohammed and Debbie Al Asfoor, the Arabian Sheik perfume designer/creators, are one of the thirteen Bahraini insiders featured in the MY WAY sections (pg. 89) of the guide.   With her enthusiasm for Bahrain, Melissa charmed these Bahrainis into revealing their favorite, and previously unknown to outsiders, places to shop, eat and chill.

As we walked through the lobby doors waiters greeted us with shots of fresh watermelon juice as the Bahraini jazz band 13th Note played.

Melissa introduced me to interior designer Ammar Bashar who created the fabulous entry way for the amphitheater where Andrea Bocelli sang last week.

The very stylish Ammar accessorized his made-in-Bahrain suit with a Hermes scarf instead of a tie.  In Streetsmart he gives away his style secret – his shoes are custom made by a local shoemaker named Ghuloom and has his suits made in the souq at a “fraction of the cost of Seville Row”.   To find these places you need the map in the guide.

Luckily for Melissa, New York based Bahraini photographer Ghada Khunji (pg. 51) was in town for the opening.  I had not met her before.  Like me her favorite aspect of Bahrain is the warmth of the Bahraini people and its multifaceted cultures.  And one of her favorite places to exhibit her photos, eat, have a spa day and a yoga class is at La Fontaine Center for Contemporary Art (pg. 49).

I took a photo of my new friend Errin Stone the Chef and Manager of the Al Riwaq Gallery (pg. 116) getting his book signed.  Just last month Errin helped me host our book club meeting.  He came up with five fresh salads, sandwiches and of course Red Velvet Cake for us to nibble.  Afterwards the members texted me “It was the best book club meeting we’ve had in awhile.” I attributed it to the art and the gallery’s atmosphere.

On the globe Bahrain is small.  But Melissa still managed to bring together Bahrainis who had never met.

Words Bookstore owner Rana whose family has literally lived in Bahrain for centuries met the perfumer and creator of Green Bar, Reem al Khalifa (pg. 168) for the first time.  I had never heard about Green Bar’s made-in-Bahrain line of pure rose waters (pg. 171) but Rana who uses her line of plant-based skin creams said “I’m so glad to meet you.  I love your products.”

Besides these Bahraini gems, the guide includes Bahrain’s key tourist sites – Tree of Life, Barbar Temple, Bahrain Fort, Saar Settlement and the Bahrain National Museum, shopping highlights and the restaurants with the best food.

Next week when my family visits, I am going to travel “off road” and will follow Melissa’s guide deep into the souq to visit Azzam Ayurvedic “that wouldn’t be out of place in Harry Potter’s wizard’s market, Diagon Alley” and through Muharraq’s alleys to the first coffee shop founded by an out-of-work pearl diver.  My brother-in-law who keeps a photo album of his favorite dishes will love going deep in the heart of Gudaibiya to sample the BEST tikka in Bahrain.

I may or may not tell you about our adventures.  Unlike Melissa, I like to keep secrets.

If you want to tour the real Bahrain or need a detailed guide for a day trip, you can pick up Streetsmart at Words Bookstore on Budaiya Highway, Jashanmals in Al A’ali Mall, or the Virgin Mega Store in Bahrain City Center.

If you stay at the Kempinski in City Center, a copy will be in your room.

To get copies of Streetsmart Bahrain for your Formula One visitors, you can email editor@streetsmartbahrain.com.

Melissa and Jamal Shaheen Muharraq carpenter

See you at Jamal Shaheen’s carpentry shop on Road 1125 behind the unmarked wooden door on your left shortly after entering the street (pg. 69).

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