Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be moving to a foreign country to live, let alone a country in the Middle East. Over the 2009 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, my husband Roger and I discussed what we wanted the next part of our life to be like. He thought that before retiring, he would like to do one more airport project but only if he could find something very interesting. I half-jokingly agreed that would be fine but could he try for an exotic location? As usual, Roger came through and soon we were headed to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This blog is a recap of our "leap-of- faith" wanderings around the Middle East and beyond. We joyfully share these expat experiences.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Note: This article appeared in the March 2012 issue of Loyola University in New Orleans Alumni Magazine LOYNO.  I was honored to be asked to submit an article about living in Dubai. Living in a Islamic Country. I have added additional photos to the article. I received my BA in Journalism from Loyola in 1968. 

Jumeirah Mosque, Dubai
In my wildest dreams I never thought I would be living in a foreign country let alone an Islamic country in the Middle East. A phone call New Year’s Day 2010 sent my husband Roger packing for a flight to Dubai where his company was relocating him. I would follow two months later.

Reactions from family and friends to our announcement that we were moving to the Middle East ranged from total disbelief, “You shouldn't be doing this at your age;” to sheer terror, “What about all the terrorists there;” to concern, “Mom, you are such an independent women, how are you going to live over there where women are so oppressed;” to the comical,“You're going to look great in a headscarf.”

I will admit that as I boarded the flight from New York City to Dubai there was a big pit in my stomach. I all too often step off the edge of the cliff before looking to see where I am going to land. And there is always that brief moment of panic before the thrill of a new adventure kicks in.

Dunes outside of Abu Dhabi
And what a once-in-a-lifetime adventure this is going to be! Visions of camels and sand dunes . . . along with images of turban headed, swarthy dangerous looking men with daggers in their belts, veiled women meekly following their husbands and the terrorists and their jihad with the promise of 72 virgins. The pictures were swirling in my head as I made the 12 hour flight

Roger up close and personal with the camels.
The first thing to remember about living in an Islamic country is that, yes, it is different. Muslim’s believe that Allah has full Wisdom and knows what is best for them so they strive to follow his guidance in every aspect of life.

However, being over here in the thick of things, I can see that the Qur’an, the divine revelations Mohammed received during his life, can be interpreted differently in different countries. For sure the UAE, more modern than most Arab states, is a more tolerant but still holds true to the traditional Islamic values.

And let’s not forget about the “fanatics,” from every religion, who throughout the ages twisted religious teachings to meet their own needs. No religion, and that includes Islam, condones the killing of innocent people or promises virgins in the afterlife. And I certainly hope that no one reading this article will burn a Qur’an in protest.  

An important note, as Christ taught us, the two most important commandments are: 1) to worship only one God and 2) to treat your neighbor as yourself, Muslims also believe and act on the same. I do marvel at the similarities between the basic values of Islam and my Christian belief.

Living in the UAE has its rewards and restrictions. There is visibly little crime. Women are treated with a high degree of respect. No pork except in special sections of certain supermarkets and some restaurants. Alcohol is only sold in tourist hotels, though, as non-Muslims, you can purchase a liquor license to buy liquor for your personal use - if you don’t mind the 30% tax!

Drunkenness, drug use, foul language, public display of affection, and dishonest behavior are all criminal offenses with very severe punishments. Other religions are free to practice but there is a strong warning that no evangelization will be tolerated.

Roger, Father Eugene & Katie
Roger and I attend St, Francis Assisi Roman Catholic Church situated in the desert on top of Jebel Ali just south of Dubai. This compound, donated by the Ruler of Dubai, is home to seven Christian churches and a Sikh temple

St. Francis, a robust congregation of 10,000 parishioners, weekly celebrates 22 Obligatory Masses in 13 languages. The parish is lead by the indomitable 80-year old Father Eugene Mattioli. I am privileged to serve as a Eucharistic Minister at St. Francis. 

The two questions I am most asked are about women rights and marriage:

The Qur’an, revealed in the 6th century, brought new rights and freedoms to women through the many verses dealing with a woman’s right to work, to reject a marriage, entitlement to inheritances and to be treated with kindness and respect.

For Muslim women, the Qur’an states they must dress modestly. How much covering, what style and what color is determined by the tribal or country traditions. As a non-Muslim, I am asked to dress modestly. The rule of thumb is to be loosely covered from the neck to the elbow to the knees. At my age, this is a blessing!

Katie & Roger don traditional Muslin dress
for visit to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. 

In the UAE, a Muslim woman decides how much she covers. Many choose to wear the abaya, a long black cloak and the hijab a head scarf covering the head and neck. Some prefer the complete face veil covering of the niqab, which only allows you to see the woman’s eyes. The burqa, a mask-like face covering, has lost favor and is now only worn only by elderly women. 

In the Qur’an it states that a woman cannot have a marriage forced upon her. Yes, marriages are arranged by families but the woman has the right to say no.   

Muslim men are allowed 4 wives but each must be treated equally. If you buy an expensive diamond for one you must do the same for the others. In today’s world, few men can afford this luxury and in the UAE only 10% of the men have multiple wives, mostly just two.

As I am writing this I can see out my window that the sun is about to set over the Arabian Gulf and the evening call to prayer is sending meditative waves across the city’s skyscrapers. It is a peaceful scene. As is my habit, I use this call to say my own prayer for tolerance and peace.

I have found living in the UAE to be most exciting and enjoy exploring the country, its traditions and its people. 

This has been the best adventure to date! If you visit Dubai please look me up! 


  1. Very well said, Katie. I think Islam is one, if not the, most misinterpreted religion (even by some of its own followers at times).

  2. Well said indeed Katie! Your words tell well so much of what we from the "West" did not know or learn until we set foot on the sands of the Middle East here in Dubai...

  3. Fun to read, and so well written as always, Katie!!! Thank you for taking time to enlighten and remind everyone who reads this, about the very interesting Emirati culture.

  4. Katie...You have taught us so much about different cultures. I am so happy to experience your adventures via your blogs. As we grow and mature and if we are lucky to travel around the world, the more we learn that even though we all have different religions, skin colors, and traditions, we are basically the same--people of this Earth. We love our countries, we want the best for our children and families, even if we worship God in different ways. The more we grow and meet people, we learn that the majority of people have the same goals: a desire for a happy life full of peace, and love.

  5. Katie What a wonderful adventure you are on!
    Thanks for sharing:) great Great blog.
    (I know a know a dentist from Kentucky that has praticed in Dubai for over twenty years}
    Rod Poole sent me your link he said we had a lot in common and the same political views. LOL

  6. Hi Katie,
    What a wonderful piece! You truly have the most open heart and mind of anyone I know. Please continue sharing your insights and adventures.
    Anne :)

  7. As usual you put into words what most of us feel about our experience living here. Life is good when we open our eyes and look around with open hearts

  8. Desert safari Dubai Allah all mighty bless Islamic countries with so many things and these desert adventure. i just love them.