By Arab News
By Aijaz Zaka Syed
This is springtime in the Middle East once again. And I haven’t seen such glorious, reinvigorating weather during my nearly decade of living in the region. This year appears to be really special. Temperatures have dropped to single digits in many parts of the UAE — it even snowed for a bit in the picturesque mountains of Ras Al Khaimah — and the Gulf. With a pleasant, cold snap in the air — it was minus something in Kuwait this month — everyone seems to have brought out their woolens and leathers that are rarely found of any use in our part of the world.
This is perhaps the best time to be in the Gulf right now. And coming from a warm region, the colder it is the better for me. I just can’t have enough of this magical, absolutely rejuvenating weather, forever talking about it with anyone who cares to listen. The air is incredibly sweet and pure. And to live it and breathe in it all seems like the greatest blessing nature could offer one. I am not very religious but right now I feel like bowing my head in total submission and thank Him for all His bounty.
But not everyone appears to enjoy the nature in its full glory and breathtaking splendor. Some can still manage to come up with enough excuses to endlessly grumble and whine about the ways of the world in general and the weather in particular. They huff and puff and sniffle as they complain of cold weather conditions, fog and even the divine breeze flowing from up north and across the Gulf. They almost long for the humid and oppressive weather conditions of an Arabian summer as they go on and on about their wretched flu and all sorts of allergies and diseases that the Arab spring conspires to bring them every year.
And I feel nothing but pity for them. Do they realize what they are missing? Okay, it is a bit chilly perhaps for the thin-skinned and overly sensitive. But it’s not cold-cold as in a depressing English or European winter with overcast, gloomy skies. These low temperatures in the Middle East go with a warm and bright sunlight. This morning when I went down to pick up my phone, forgotten as usual in my car, the burst of sunshine outside took my breath away. It was another clear and bright day with a light breeze caressing those fortunate enough to be up and about, instead of being chained to their desks.
The Khalid Lagoon had turned almost white amid a feeding frenzy of thousands of seagulls and other migratory birds that traverse the distance of thousands of miles to be here this time of the year. I desperately wished I had my camera with me although I have tried to capture this incredible scene before in my own clumsy ways. I watch it all the time from the window of my 9th floor office in Sharjah’s Buheirah Corniche, mesmerized by its awe-inspiring beauty. Maybe this is what Keats had in mind when he wrote: A thing of beauty is a joy forever.
Every time I need a break or simply get bored, I stand near the window and try to drink in the breathtaking beauty of Khalid Lagoon and the whole of Buheirah Corniche. The pearl-shaped lake that joins the Sharjah Creek and further ahead the warm waters of the Gulf is encircled and embraced on all sides by the emerald green landscape and by the tall trees that seem to defy the high-rises all around.
Birds are everywhere, from the ubiquitous seagulls to kingfishers to crows even, perpetually playing, chirping, twittering and feeding. Even the pigeons and doves are there, side by side, happily chipping away at grains or whatever they could spot. There’s something about the winged creatures, especially pigeons with all their noise and fun and games that could bring even the sleepiest and most deserted of places alive. This is my favorite spot in the whole of UAE.
Who would have ever thought you could create such a miracle in the heart of the desert? But then Sharjah and Dubai, and to a great extent, the UAE defy all received notions about the Gulf. While green landscaping, done at a formidable cost, is a common feature and encouraged all across the emirates, Sharjah stands out for its endless greenery and great public parks, not to mention the open grand vistas and magnificent mosques and monuments.
The emirate is not just home to more than 600 mosques; it is also known for its art galleries, museums, world-class universities, libraries and cultural events held throughout the year. No wonder the UNESCO named Sharjah the Cultural Capital of the Arab and Islamic world in 1996.
Interestingly, this preoccupation with the art, culture, knowledge and good things of life goes with a quest for material progress. More than half of the UAE’s thriving manufacturing sector and industries are based in Sharjah.
More important, Sharjah has resisted the reckless, blind development and growth that came with the dawn of the oil era in most Gulf countries.
In its quest for a balanced growth, it has remained faithful to its Islamic identity and Arab traditions even as it has actively encouraged the pursuit of knowledge and arts and culture.
Perhaps, it is because Sharjah’s ruler is himself an accomplished poet, historian and holder of a PhD from a distinguished British university. Perhaps it’s a stretch but I find in the contemporary Sharjah — and the UAE to some extent — the echoes of the 8th century Baghdad under the legendary Abbasid Caliph Harun Al-Rashid, the land of the thousand and one tales and the land of Scheherazade.
Those were the times when the Muslim civilization was at its peak and Baghdad had been the greatest city on earth, not just the capital of the most powerful and richest empire of the time but also a great center of scientific learning and knowledge, home to Dar Al Hikmah, the House of Wisdom founded by Harun Al-Rashid that functioned as a research center and library, in addition to translating the best and brightest minds from around the world, including from ancient Greece and India, into Arabic.
That treasure trove of learning played a critical role in both the Islamic Golden Age and the European Renaissance. Whatever happened to that craving for knowledge that drove the Arabs to far corners of the world? There are lessons to be drawn from Baghdad’s past and Sharjah’s present.
— Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Gulf-based writer. Write him at [email protected]