UAE Culture

The UAE has 7 Emirates; Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm-Al-Quwain, Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah. The culture of the UAE is firmly rooted in the Islamic traditions of Arabia. Courtesy and hospitality are among the most highly prized virtues and the visitor is sure to be charmed by the genuine warmth and friendliness of the people. The UAE is a truly international mix of nationalities from all over the world.

The region's varied terrain, desert, oasis, mountains and coast, dictated the traditional lifestyles that evolved over the centuries. A resilience and resourcefulness necessary to survive in these harsh conditions was fostered by society’s ageold tribal structure: each family was traditionally bound by obligations of mutual assistance to his immediate relatives and to the tribe as a whole. Among the tribe an individual's selfless hospitality was the source of his honour and pride. A common religion, Islam, also provided the cement that held society together.

The largest tribal group, the Bani Yas, roamed the vast sandy areas that cover almost all of the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Other tribes, too, such as the Awamir and Manasir, shared this challenging environment for numerous generations. All the subtribes and clans were accustomed to wander great distances with their camels in search of grazing, moving as entire family units. Almost all Bani Yas families, with the exception of the fishing groups like the Al Rumaitha, returned to a home in one of the oasis settlements at certain times of year.

Much prized date gardens were cultivated in the hollows of huge dunes at Liwa, tapping the water trapped beneath absorbent sands.

In Al Ain and other oases luxuriant date gardens were watered by an efficient traditional irrigation system (falaj Ar.pl. aflaj) bringing water from aquifers in the mountains. In the narrow mountain wadis (valleys), falaj-like watercourses (ghayl) were used to irrigate terraced gardens tended by extended families.

Life in the mountains to the north and east was quite different to that on the sandy plains, but the seas along the UAE's extensive coastline were a common resource for all and the people of the region have been involved in trading by sea for many millennia. Great wooden dhows used to wander the Indian Ocean, bringing back new foods and new ideas. Today, seatrading is still a very profitable economic activity and the UAE remains an important entrepot.

Fishing, which traditionally supplied much-needed food in an arid environment, has not fared so well. Neither has pearling, once the mainstay of the economy with many desert dwellers spending four months of the summer pearl diving before returning to semi-nomadic lifestyles.

Eventually, the pearling boom brought increased urbanisation with a great mix of tribal people settling in coastal towns and villages. This process was hugely accelerated by the discovery and export of oil in 1962. So much so that lifestyles in the Emirates today bear little or no resemblance to those of 50 years ago.

Nevertheless, heritage and tradition and the skills that enabled survival are still held in high esteem by many Emiratis. Members of the older generation recall that they were crucial to their own survival. Today’s visitors can experience desert life (without the risks) through participation in a range of organised desert trips that usually involve transport by four-wheel drive vehicles, camels and sometimes horses. A night spent under the stars is one of the most memorable experiences of a visit to the UAE.

Other aspects of the UAE’s heritage and culture can be experienced in museums and heritage centres, by visiting fishing harbours or fish souqs, boat-building yards, falconry centres, gold souqs, spice souqs and other venues. Throughout the year various cultural events are organised by bodies such as the Emirates Heritage Club, which runs dhow races, longboat races, camel races, and a host of other activities that encourage an interest in the UAE’s heritage and culture. Festivals such as the Qasr al Hosn Festival in Abu Dhabi, TCA Handicrafts Festival in Al Ain, Liwa Date Festival, and Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition also preserve and promote traditional culture.

The United Arab Emirates has a rich history dating back to thousands of years. So, the country is concerned with preserving and documenting such heritage for the next generations.

President H. H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the members of Supreme Council are keen on preserving and promoting the UAE heritage amongst the youth by educating them; thus, linking the glorious past and the magnificent civilisation with its future generation.

Therefore, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the President, has urged the cultural, educational and academic institutions to keep the good work to raise awareness in the youth of their cultural and civilized heritage of their country.

H. H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the late president and founding father of the United Arab Emirates, had a great interest in preserving the heritage for the benefit of the country and the next generations. His interest was not limited to the national heritage, but included international heritage, as he established a USD 150,000 award with UNESCO to encourage human creativity and save threatened heritage monuments.

Islam is the official religion of the UAE and there are a large number of mosques throughout all of the Emirates. Do take some time to visit the Grand Mosque here in Abu Dhabi as it is quite breath taking (ladies must be covered and men must not wear shorts) Do not forget your camera. The majority of the population are Muslims but you will find many other religions as well.

Ramadan is the holy month and occurs about ten days earlier each year. It is a month of fasting when Muslims abstain from food, drink, cigarettes from dawn to dusk. Visitors and expatriate workers are also requested to refrain from consuming these items in public places during this time as a sign of respect.

The official language is Arabic but English is widely spoken and understood. Both languages are commonly used in business and commerce.

From April to the end of October the weather can be very hot with temperatures between 40°-50°, in September the humidity is usually very high. Buildings, malls, buses, taxis and cars are usually air-conditioned. At other times of the year the weather is quite tolerable, there may be very occasional rain.

The UAE's society is marked with a high degree of tolerance for different lifestyles. Provided reasonable discretion is shown the dress code is quite liberal. Woman face no discretion and are able to drive and may walk around unescorted, in fact there are areas on buses only for women and areas in banks where only women are served. The UAE remains close to its heritage, local citizens where traditional dress. Arab culture and folklore find expression in poetry, dancing, songs and art. Weddings are colourful occasions. Traditional sports still thrive today.

Extracts taken from http://www.uaeinteract.com/culture/

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