Overview of United Arab Emirates culture from an outsider who lived there for many years.
While the Sheikh was the lawful ruler and leader, the mutawa was the community’s religious leader.
UAE came together as a federation on 2 December 1971 with Ras al-Khaimah joining in 1972.
Sheikh Zayed led the formation of the federation whose rulers elected him to five-year terms as President of the UAE in 1971 - 2001.
Having the same ruler since inception, and later on a smooth transition to Sheikh Zayed’s son Sheikh Khalifa has helped.
Sheikh Zayed’s legacy of religious tolerance, use of diplomacy and dialogue to settle disputes, turning the desert into green, advocating for women’s rights, giving to poorer nations and improving the living conditions of the country’s residents continues today with his successors.
HH stands for His Highness.
The federal government is called the Supreme Council.
The Supreme Council is a constitutional republic headed by a president and council of ministers.
Desalinated water accounts for 70% of the country’s sweet water use.
The lack of responsibility or need to be productive can result in low self-esteem and indulgence in vices.
To combat this problem, the government has an ongoing campaign of marketing pride for traditional values, and pushing its citizens to be more actively involved in governing the country.
The population is distributed among the emirates as follows:
38% Abu Dhabi
04% Ras Al-Khaimah
02% Umm Al-Quwain
Gender distribution among non-UAE residents is 72% male and 28% female.
Bedouin’s houses were small and rectangular with a short, narrow wooden door for an entry way. These narrow doors made it difficult for an unwanted intruder to force his entry.
Wild camels do not exist in the UAE; all are owned.
One in five people in the world are Muslim and that fewer than 15% of Muslims are Arab.
Emiratis are predominantly of the Sunni sect, as are 85% of all Muslims.
Sunni’ in Arabic comes from a word meaning ‘one who follows the traditions of the Prophet’.
Sunni Muslims agree the new leader should be elected from among those capable of the job. This is what was done.
Sunni Muslims do not venerate imams.
Shia Muslims believe leadership should have stayed within the Prophet’s family: his cousin and son-in-law, Ali.
Shia Muslims follow a line of imams who have been appointed by the Prophet Muhammad or God himself.
‘Shia’ is shortened from ‘Shia-t-Ali’ or ‘the Party of Ali’, and in Arabic means ‘supportive party’.
Shia Muslims believe that the imam is sinless by nature, and that his authority is infallible as it comes directly from God.
Shia Muslims felt animosity towards some of Prophet Muhammad’s companions because of their positions and actions over the question of leadership following the Prophet’s death. Many of these companions narrated traditions about the Prophet’s life and spiritual practice which Shia Muslims rejected. This gave rise to the differences in religious practice including prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage.
Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter mosques in the UAE except during special times when tours are organised.
There is supposed to be a mosque within five minutes’ walking distance of every male Muslim.
There is no hierarchical authority in Islam and there are no priests.
Ramadan, the month of fasting, takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
Because of the difference between the Islamic calendar and the Gregorian one, Ramadan occurs about two weeks earlier every year.
Ramadan is the time when God revealed the Qur’an to Prophet Muhammad.
These revelations took place over a 22-year period.
‘Qur’an’ means ‘recitation’.
Flights to Israel cannot be taken from or arranged in the UAE and if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport, get a clean passport as you will not be issued a visa otherwise.
Djinn are thought to appear most likely at dusk or dawn.
Djinn are mentioned in the Qur’an.
Emirati women make up just 10% or less of the entire population.
The government has ensured significant educational and work opportunities for women, going so far as to ground these rights into the UAE Constitution. The Constitution, in accordance with the precepts of Islam, guarantees social justice for all its citizens. Women are accorded the same legal status as men, the same access to education, health care and social welfare. They are legally allowed to claim title and have the same right to practise professions as men. Equal pay for equal work is proscribed. Women are even appointed to the Federal National Council.
Islam is mistakenly thought to have lowered the status of women when in fact it raised their status through granting them rights where they were previously denied.
Women have complete ownership of their wealth and they do not contribute to household expenditures.
Men are expected to provide complete material welfare for the upkeep of the house.
When asking a young Emirati how many siblings they have, you may be asked for clarification as to whether you mean how many from their mother or how many from their father.
Most households have at least one live-in servant.
Juha and stories about him are used to teach wit and wisdom to Emirati children: comic tales with a hidden meaning or moral lesson.
UAE is ahead of the US, the UK, France, Canada, Greece, the Republic of Ireland, Japan and Poland with regards to women representation in the parliament.
A wonderful career option and a very popular one for Emirati women is IT because it can permit women to work from home and may require minimum interaction with others. IT has begun to emerge in the country, and a large pool of educated women have pursued these careers. Women are running businesses and working in trade, maintenance, finance and investment, the arts, medicine, the army, police work, property management, manufacturing, restaurants, hotels and construction.
Women are able to have greater access to high-level executive positions in the UAE than women in other countries since the country has a need for more Emirati leaders, and because women are less likely to interact with the public in these positions.
‘I and my brothers against my cousin; I and my cousins against the stranger.’ - Bedouin saying
Emiratis were a nomadic people. They lived in small family groups travelling from oasis to oasis.
Their separateness from other people and the isolation of the desert instilled a sense of patience and physical endurance.
Hospitality may be the single most important law of the desert.
Without it, people travelling in the desert away from their groups would die.
Even poor people are required to feed and shelter strangers and guests for an obligatory three days.
The guest may leave after a few days without ever having stated his name or business because it is rude for the host to ask.
Abu Dhabi donates as much as 30% of its income a year to poorer Muslim countries.
Emirates give gifts at every opportunity.
It is rude to refuse their gifts and offers because a refusal does not allow them to carry out their good intention.
Emiratis experience the same range of emotions as other people, but it is shameful for them to show tears, sadness and anger.
experts at putting on a ‘poker face’, giving a blank stare as they weigh and balance their thoughts before speaking.
They do not trust people who do not look them directly in the eye.
Emiratis believe that referring to someone’s future death wishes it upon them.
Bedouin loyalties are to their kin and are felt strongest towards their closest family members.
Loyalties are less strong the less closely-related people are.
In the past, extended families travelled together.
All members of the group were able to trace their lineage to one common man.
As these families grew in number, they joined other related family groups and formed a tribe.
In force, they were able to protect themselves from the threat posed by other tribes.
Group cohesion was the key to the survival of these tribes, so absolute conformity to the values of the groups was demanded.
Peace within a tribal group was imperative. Aggression was not allowed.
Modern Emiratis are a very peaceful people.
They consolidated seven tribes into one confederation, settled upon their internal boundaries and have lived peacefully together ever since.
Emiratis though have been less concerned with time.
In the desert there is no sense of urgency or haste and no sense of future.
The attitude is that tomorrow will come, yesterday was, so why be concerned with any time other than now?
Missed deadlines are still often the norm.
This causes the foreigner to hurry up, yet wait a lot.
The expatriate says ‘see you tomorrow’ and hears ‘insha’allah’ (God willing) in response.
Disappointment may be met with the expression, ‘mafi mooshcola’, meaning ‘never mind, it doesn’t matter’.
The cycle of the moon can now be accurately determined with scientific instruments, yet Ramadan begins only when a designated mutawa sights the new moon himself, not when science predicts it will appear.
When entering a room say, ‘assalam ’alaykum’ (peace be upon you) to which all present will respond, ‘wa’alaykum salam’ (and upon you be peace).
This will interrupt a business transaction or conversation.
Human relations are held to be of utmost importance, so the foreigner must learn to accept and participate in these interruptions.
A: How are you? Fine?
B: Al-Hamdulilah (Thanks to God).
A: How is your family? Fine?
Greetings and responses are always positive and since you are obviously there and healthy, the speaker knows the answer.
I often find myself racing along trying to accomplish an inordinate number of tasks only to come up against this discourse.
It is as if someone were asking me to stop and count my blessings.
Wasta is the clout you have by virtue of who you are or who you know.
Wasta opens doors, generates necessary official stamps and signatures and generally moves things along a little more quickly.
Many Westerners are practically addicted to accomplishment and self-advancement.
Emiratis see those efforts to control and direct the future as futile or even worse, sinful.
Members of a family show loyalty to each other through subservience and obedience to the best interests of the group.
A woman is always a member of her father’s family.
Even when she marries into another family, her loyalty is to the family she was born into.
For this reason, she does not change her name when she marries.
Patrilineal descent hence strongly discourages marriage to members of other families or tribes.
Women take strength and wealth in the form of children and inheritance away from their paternal families and add it to their husband’s family when they marry someone outside the paternal family.
A woman’s offspring represent strength and quantity, but these belong to her husband.
Her wealth passes to her children upon her death and thus, out of her father’s family and into that of her husband.
The ideal marriage then is one between the children of two brothers.
Progeny of such a union can trace a common ancestor, and wealth and strength are retained by the family.
In the past, people who were tossed out of the group had no choice but to wander around the desert. This meant almost certain death.
If the wanderers came upon other groups, those groups would provide them with only the obligatory three days of hospitality, but not group membership.
The greatest dishonour a group could experience was that brought about through the sexual misconduct of one of its female members.
Thus, every aspect of Emirati society, from segregation and veiling, to being escorted and homebound, offers women protection from the possible loss of their honour.
Sitting on the floor is sunnah, or in accordance with the Prophet Muhammad’s customs.
It is thought to demonstrate modesty and to be more directly in contact with nature.
Emirati men and women cover their feet with the edges of their long clothing and you would probably feel more comfortable if you were able to do likewise.
Protruding feet do stand out.
Many Arabs are adverse to physical labour, particularly if it dirties their hands or makes them sweat. The Emiratis do not work with their hands.
They view the doing of projects around the house as demeaning, and think that Western hobbies and pride in completed projects are quaint.
They avoid work that requires the use of muscles.
Some Emiratis see work as a curse and hold the acquisition of wealth through luck as the ideal.
The further away from manual labour Emiratis get, the higher their status.
Modern Emiratis have also insulated themselves from the rest of the population by high walls, tinted windows and special privileges.
Critical thinking and opinions are valued among people who value individualism.
Group-oriented people on the other hand think not in terms of themselves but in terms of the good of the group.
This group relies on the Qur’an to inform their opinions and guide their behaviour.
Critical thinking and problem-solving abilities are not well-developed when all answers are found in a book.
You may thus be disappointed by some of the answers you are given to intentionally thought-provoking questions, since average young Emiratis all seem to produce the same answers.
Traditional dress has remained as everyday wear for the Emiratis, but they discourage non-Emirati people from wearing it.
Emiratis’ religious belief is that the form of the body should not be apparent for men or women.
Falconry was also a means for the Emiratis to obtain fresh meat.
Falconry is a winter sport - when birds have migrated from Iran, Turkey, Russia and Syria.
The falcons are released back into the wild at the end of the season.
Whereas people once helped others for prestige, they now seek monetary rewards. This means you can often purchase the privileges you seek.
Emiratis may ask you a slew of questions you may consider to be personal. These may be about your family, age or income. It is important to them that you feel at ease and at home as a guest in their country and their business environment. Establishing a personal relationship with someone is a necessary precursor to establishing a business relationship.
Emiratis typically see Westerners in particular as being too liberal and sloppy about their appearance. The Emiratis in general are immaculate dressers. Their clothes are well-pressed and elegant in a subtly expensive way. Your dress reflects your status and wealth, and you will be judged by your appearance.
Men should always shake hands with other men when meeting them for the first time. A handshake should be short and firm.
Your first question should be, “How are you?” followed by, “How is business?” and then, “How was your vacation?” or, “Did you have a nice weekend?” and anything else you can come up with of a not-too-personal nature.
A large percentage of the working population are adverse to doing anything outside of their job description, particularly if they feel it is beneath them, and even more so if the work involves manual labour.
This is the ‘dirty hands’ concept and it results in a larger number of employees supervising work rather than actually doing the work.
Doing work that is beneath a person’s position is demeaning.
A hard worker who wants to start a business should adopt a similar ‘dirty hands’ concept with the public, then perform the work in private and reap a handsome profit.
The importance of prestige cannot be overemphasised.
Psychologically, others will prefer to do business with such an important person as you, a person far removed from having dirty hands.