5 January 2014| Last updated on 14 January 2020
Top Ten Cultural Questions Asked
1. Why do the women walk behind the men?
The fact of the matter is that some women walk behind men because of a few reasons:
- The men naturally have a longer stride and may keep a faster pace than us.
- In Islam, the men are given the responsibility by the Lord as protector and provider. The man will walk in front of the women to clear the way for a safe passage. Call it chivalry if you like, but it is purely for the comfort of the women. Simply put, the man cuts through the crowd for his lady.
- From a cultural and social perspective, women are uncomfortable being followed by the men, especially a strange man in a strange place. For example, when its windy, loose clothing tends to come up, why worry and have to hold down your skirt or abaya and so on. So, it’s best that the man walks in front of the women when it’s appropriate.
- As to a husband and wife, nowadays we see them walking side by side, and holding hands.
2. Why do we find women’s only or family sections in restaurants and even the beaches?
Women are given special places in malls, beaches and restaurants for their own comfort zone. Muslims in general have a certain protocol or set of behaviors that reflect a more conservative society. Women prefer to again, feel free to be women, having their own places to relax. This is why there’s ladies’ clubs, ladies’ day at the beach, a ladies’ car on the metro, ladies’ taxis and separate sections in restaurants for families or ladies only. They can choose to go to the public beach, or have a day that’s just from them. In the end, individuals make their own choice whether to take advantage of it or not. When I asked the question why women gather in the restroom during a party; their answer was to me, “we’re having girls talk”.
Most importantly, we should understand that men and women are on earth to complement and complete each other not to compete, what suits a lady does not necessarily suit a man.
3. What does the average Emirati think about being a minority in the own country, and do they like all this modernization?
The people of this nation for centuries have lived in a multi-cultural environment. Traders, foreign pearl divers and travelers have always been a welcome part of the scenery, and truly what makes Dubai special. Today, some of the older crowd might feel a bit overwhelmed by the Dubai of today, simply more hustle and bustle, and nothing is the same. The middle aged Emirati may enjoy the high life of the big city and living well in comparison to his parents, while some are working hard to maintain and hold the torch from our hard working forefathers to keep up with the high demands of our new nation and its placement in the world. The youth do not know any better or can’t imagine how we could have lived with so little in the past.
The side effects of growth like a fast paced life, traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road, and yes sometimes influences from outside the country that conflict with our culture, tradition, and religion - each individual has their own way of dealing with it which in general is very positive over all.
4. Do Emiratis divorce, and is there a stigma to divorce?
The answer is yes but the statistics are far lower than global divorce rates. The society is still based on traditional family values and marriage is a big part of adult life and encouraged in Islam. The Prophet Mohammed’s first wife was a widow, and he was also married to a divorced women. As he is the perfect example, according to the religion it should not have a stigma. In any society divorce can be seen as a failure of sorts, and with that we make pre judgments. Many here do marry from those who have been divorced just like in any other population.
5. Are women forced to wear the black abaya?
The black abaya is now a part of the culture in the southern Arabian Peninsula, and is a traditional form of dress that serves many purposes. In the past it was not just black. So, the question remains why black? and is black hot? This is a topic we discuss at the SMCCU. The short answer is - no force really! While some ladies may feel social pressure to wear the abaya, to blend in and be like everyone else rather than be different and stand out, in practicality you need to cover in a harsh desert environment with loose fitting clothing. It protects the clothes and body from the effects of the sun and blowing sand. It is also modest, and enables women to wear something that suits the general advice from the Quran to dress modestly and not to be too show-offish.
6. Why do we see so many men in the mosques and not the women?
The Lord created us with equality and, according to our nature, male and female, gives each an equal opportunity to earn the favor of their Lord. Equal is sometimes different as per our nature. Women are given breaks (mercy) according to her circumstances; for instance, pregnant, menstruating, breastfeeding, safety etc. It is common knowledge that if a man can hear the Athan or call to prayer, he should attend to his prayers in the mosque, where he will receive extra rewards for making the effort. He does not have to but he should try. For women, they may or may not choose to go, it is up to them, and they will receive an equal reward from their Lord for their prayers. If you think about it women carry more of the load and responsibilities in life as mothers and wives so she can attend to her prayers in the comfort of her home or the mosque so it is easy on her, equal to the ease that a man feels.
7. Are there still Bedouins living in the UAE?
So is being Bedouin more than just living in the desert? Of course! So when we look at the word Bedouin, we think of the nomad which moved around in the desert looking for water to survive. But we know that Bedu is not just a lifestyle of living in the desert but a set of customs, traditions, and values. Here in the UAE you can say that the Bedu have settled, there are many who proudly connect with their Bedouin roots. Bedouins have strong ties to kinship and friendship. This is why they are well known for their generosity and hospitality, two traits that are extended to anyone they come in contact with. But very few live as a Bedouin any more. We go out to the dessert to camp in an effort to live like we lived in the old days.
Is Dubai different than the other Emirates? Why does it seem so difficult to get to know an Emirati?
The answer is yes and no. We are all one nation, families and tribes connected by kin and marriage. Dubai has become a bit more modern and more of a big city than the other surrounding Emirates and therefore we have things that are different; traditions are the same while more multi-cultural in Dubai at times.
Difficulty in meeting an Emirati depends on whom you ask; some have friends after a short while of living here and some never spoke to an Emirati after 10 years of living here. You need to make the first move. Why? Because we are a lot less in population, have different family makeup, different life style due to traditions and religion, so connecting takes effort and sincerity to make a friendship. Our younger generation finds it easier. They are more out and about and their English is much better than the older crowd, so it’s easier for them to communicate. If you speak or learn Arabic, then your chances of meeting and forming a friendship with an Emirati are much higher without a doubt. Dubai is known for its openness and tolerance towards its expat guests.
8. Is Dubai different than the other Emirates? Why does it seem so difficult to get to know an Emirati?
Emiratis represent the spectrum of economic groups, just like any other population. As citizens that are afforded certain benefits, free health care, education and discounted utilities. When it comes to homes and land, there are funds set up by the government to help all economic levels access affordable housing, which can be land and a loan to build a house. There are conditions, waiting lists, and you must qualify. Every country’s citizens are afforded certain rights and the Emirates are not different in its effort to improve the quality of life of its patriots. The fact of the matter is if you drive around you will see those whom still living in a much older house or in a much smaller house than the person next door and some do rents apartments and struggle to make ends meet.
9. Are all Emiratis rich? Do Emiratis get free water and electricity, free homes and land, free education?
Emiratis represent the spectrum of economic groups, just like any other population. As citizens the Government offers them certain benefits, free health care, education and discounted utilities. When it comes to homes and land, there are funds set up by the government to help all economic levels access affordable housing, which can be land and a loan to build a house. There are conditions, waiting lists, and you must qualify. Every country’s citizens are afforded certain rights and the Emirates are not different in its effort to improve the quality of life of its patriots. The fact of the matter is if you drive around you will see those whom still live in a much older house or in a much smaller house than the person next door, and some do rents apartments and struggle to make ends meet.
10. What is Emirati authentic cuisine?
Well, we are living in the desert where hardly anything grows but we are also close to the sea so during the season, when the weather permits, fish is the ultimate. We have grilled fish, we have fried fish. We dry the fish and we cook it. Historically then, rice came to us through trade, so it became dishes with rice. You can add to the rice, chicken, add fish, add meat and we call it Machboos. It’s identical to Biryani or Spanish Paella. Some families add spices but that tends to be to the liking of Emirati chefs. So Machboos is the main meal on a daily basis in most Emirati households. Another favourite Emirati dish is to take the meat and cook it with vegetables and sauce. The sauce is called Saloona. Where others will have pasta with meat and sauce we normally add rice. It can also be fish, meat or chicken. One of our most traditional and fascinating dishes is Harees – wheat, meat and ghee. This is to give you that kick of energy. We eat it and then you get going to burn off all the calories.
In every aspect of an Emirati’s life in the old days, there was hard work so we needed to be nutritionally prepared. People were walking everywhere in the old days and almost every activity was hard work because there was no such thing as cars or riding camels all the time, so Harees is a great dish. Then there is Mathrooba, which is pureed chicken with lentils. Drinks included water, camel or goat milk and Arabic coffee. Dates, of course, were also a major source of survival in the desert. Wealth began with the pearl and over time general trade became a necessity. We began trading in dried goods, which we could boil, that didn’t go bad because cold storage was not available.