On The Fabrication of Cultural Memory: History Theme Malls in Dubai

John Biln


Dubai, one of the most mobile cities in the world, is rapidly cementing its image as a global city and icon of Islamic tolerance. Dubai’s economic opportunities, relative safety and geographic centrality in the heart of the Middle East make it attractive to a wide range of economic and political migrants from across the region. This article asks how a city which is overwhelmingly populated by members of a highly mobile and diverse non-citizen workforce could construct a plausible sense of collective memory, a fundamental requirement for any meaningful social cohesion. In considering this question, the article reviews two well-known history-themed commercial centers, Ibn Batutta Mall and the Khan Murjan in Wafi Mall. Each of these emphasize Arab-Islamic cultural heritage and the region’s long history of trade and transit. Both malls highlight culturally significant journeys documented in historical manuscripts. The article concludes that in constructing a complex experience which maps immediate spatial movement onto well-known travel narratives, the Ibn Battuta and Khan Murjan centers provide scaffolds for a cultural memory essentially “made to order” for a population who share, if little else, a profound sense of dislocation, flow and perpetual movement.


Dubai; Museums; Malls; Islam; Culture

Full Text:



I. Csicsery-Ronay, “Notes on Mutopia,” Postmodern Culture, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 21-29, 1997.

J. Snoj, (2015, June 12). “UAE’s Population—by Nationality,” BQ Magazine [website publication]. Available: http://www.bq-magazine.com/economy/socioeconomics/2015/04/uae-population-by-nationality.

F. Malit Jr. and A. Youha, (2013, September 18). “Labor Migration in the United Arab Emirates: Challenges and Responses,” Migration Information Source [website publication]. Available: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/labor-migration-united-arab-emirates-challenges-and-responses.

Gulf News Report, (2012, March 7). “Dubai’s tourism industry grows 10% to 9.3 million,” Gulf New [website publication]. Available: http://gulfnews.com/business/sectors/tourism/dubai-s-tourism-industry-grows-10-to-9-3-million-1.991324.

B. Flanagan, (2014, December 31). “Executive expats are staying twice as long in the UAE,” The National [website publication]. Available: http://www.thenational.ae/business/economy/executive-expats-are-staying-twice-as-long-in-the-uae.

C. Steiner, “From Heritage to Hyper-Reality? Tourism Destination Development in the Middle East between Petra and the Palm,” Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change, vol. 8, no. 4, pp. 240-253, 2010.

M. Acuto, “High-Rise Dubai: Urban Entrepreneurialism and the Technology of Symbolic Power,” Cities, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 272-284, 2010.

M. Davis, “Sand, Fear ad Money in Dubai,” in Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neo-liberalism, Cities, M. Davis and D. Monk, Eds., New York: New Press, pp. 48-58, 2010.

M. Bagaeen, “Brand Dubai: The Instant City; or the Instantly Recognizable City,” International Planning Studies, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 173-197, 2007.

M. Kanna, “The ‘State Philosophical’, in the ‘Land without Philosophy’: Shopping Malls, Interior Cities, and the Image of Utopia in Dubai,” Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 59-73, 2005.

J. Biln and M. El-Amrousi, “Dubai’s Museum Types: A Structural Analytic,” Museum Worlds: Advances in Research, vol. 2, pp. 99-112, 2014.

A. Scott (2015, October 15). “Malls of the UAE, part 1: Dubai’s Ibn Battuta transports shoppers into voyage of discovery,” The National [website publication]. Available: http://www.thenational.ae/business/retail/malls-of-the-uae-part-1-dubais-ibn-battuta-transports-shopping-into-voyage-of-discovery.

I. Battuta, The Travels of Ibn Battuta, Rev. Samuel Lee, Trans. and Ed. New York, 2013.

A-M. Al-Hariri, Maqamat Al-Hariri Ilustrated by Y. Al-Wasiti, London, 2003.

A. Gospodini, “Urban Design, Urban Space Morphology, Urban Tourism: An Emerging New Paradigm Concerning their Relationship,” European Planning Studies, vol. 9, no. 7, pp. 925-934, 2001.

L. Chebaiki-Adli and N. Chabbi-Chemrouk, “On Drafting a New Architectural Syntax: Case Study of the Great Mosque of Algiers,” Journal of Islamic Architecture, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 106-114, 2015.

N. Rozan, E. Setiyowati and P. Wismantara, “The Application of Islamic Value and Regionalism in the Redesign of Zainul Hasn Genggong Boarding School on Probolinggo Indonesia,” Journal of Islamic Architecture, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 101-105, 2013.

A. Ali, “Syncretic Architecture of Fatehpur Sikri: A Symbol of Composite Culture,” Journal of Islamic Architecture, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 123-127, 2013.

L. Maslucha, “Spatial and Architectural Design Aspects in Community Based Mosques,” Journal of Islamic Architecture, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 70-77, 2012.

A. Yassin and N. Utaberta, “Architecture in the Islamic Civilization: Muslim Building or Islamic Architecture,” Journal of Islamic Architecture, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 52-60, 2012.

M. Berman, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity, 9th edition, London and New York, 2009.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.18860/jia.v4i1.3111


  • There are currently no refbacks.