Sikhs give thanks for their new sanctuary in the desert

A new, 25,000-square-foot worship centre has opened behind Jebel Ali Hospital for followers of the Sikh religion.

Guru Nanak Darbar, the new Sikh gurudwara or temple, was built on land in Jebel Ali that was donated to the community by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National
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DUBAI // The emirate's Sikh community calls its new temple a special sanctuary in the desert.

Hundreds of followers have flocked to the Guru Nanak Darbar, the UAE's first official gurdwara, for daily prayers starting at 5am.

Before the temple opened last month in Jebel Ali, the Sikh community of 50,000 prayed inside the Hindu complex in Bur Dubai.

"All stress disappears when you go in," said Manmeet Kaur, the project manager of a water treatment company, who worships at the new gurdwara. "It was the greatest news that we have our own special place.

"I called my parents in India immediately to tell them. I am so excited to show it to them when they visit this year."

Like most Sikhs in the UAE, Ms Kaur had prayed at Bur Dubai and sung kirtans (devotional songs) in community functions at people's homes.

The downtown temple is more than 50 years old and is too small to handle the needs of a growing community.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and the Ruler of Dubai, donated the plot of land to the community.

The sandstone-coloured building with domes and arches laced with lattice work was built on 2,360 square metres of land behind the Jebel Ali Hospital.

On the first level is a hall big enough for 900 followers to enjoy sermons and devotional songs. On a floor below, devotees can sit cross-legged on the floor in the langar hall, where up to 600 people can share free meals.

Sanjpal Singh, an electrical engineer, cherishes the feeling of brotherhood when dozens eat the same meal after a religious service.

"You get a real feeling of a real Indian gurdwara because everyone sits together, there are no differences," Mr Singh said. "… rich or poor, you eat the same meal. Now just like in India, we have it in the UAE too."

Followers say they will continue to visit the Bur Dubai temple, but the new place of worship will accommodate larger numbers for weddings.

Ms Kaur said the gurdwara, which holds the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, symbolises tolerance in the Emirates.

"We are really very grateful to the Rulers from the core of our heart," Ms Kaur said. "This shows open-mindedness … this is the place people will turn to when they face tough times in life."