No, it’s not a must. But some local Emirati ladies prefer to cover their faces out of choice and extra religious caution. In Islam women are required to modestly cover all their body except for the face and hands. For more info please click here
Dear Ali: Following reports of indecency charges, what is your take on attitudes towards cultural differences? Do you think kissing in public will ever be made legal? MF, Abu Dhabi
Dear MF: Islam stresses the importance of how to be gentle with children and family, respect for one's elders and modesty. Our religion teaches us how to talk to others, how to dress and how to behave with members of the opposite sex. These social values, not Islamic law, are why Islam continues to grow.
Kissing in public is not illegal. I kiss my mother in public, as does almost every Emirati man. In fact, we're kissing fools. It all depends on the context. I kissed my mother's forehead when I left to study in the US. I kissed my little sister on her cheeks when we were younger, but now that she is 23 years old, I would kiss her forehead or hand.
We draw the line at kissing other women in public, though. Emirati families have enough trouble accepting the dress standards of expats. We're not against affection, but rather, public displays of affection between nonrelated, non-married men and women. Married couples can hold hands or kiss, but you won't see many Emiratis doing so; it's just not us. The way we see it, if you start to accept kissing on the beach, more lewd behavior may become part of the culture. The UAE Government is open to modernization but careful to protect our faith and social codes.
Dear Ali: I work for a Federal Government company in Abu Dhabi and my wife works for a private company in Dubai as a qualified chartered accountant. She is here on a visa from her employer but has resigned from her job and wishes to move to my visa and get a job at another firm in Abu Dhabi. However, my wife's employer will not provide her with a No Objection Certificate. Can my wife move to my visa without an NOC and will she be banned from working? If so, what are her alternatives? KC, Abu Dhabi
Dear KC: Your wife can move on to your visa as long as you can provide all necessary documents to prove the legal status of your marriage and that your income is above the limit that the Naturalisation and Residence Administration stipulates.
However, without an NOC (the certificate required to avoid a work ban when moving jobs), she may not be able to take another job. If your wife's employer does not agree to a visa transfer, it is solely at its discretion and there is no legal means of appeal.
This ban is meant to be a way of stabilizing the labour market, protecting the interests of both employers and employees. If the employer does object to her taking up new employment with another sponsor, there is nothing you can do about it, other than appeal in the most diplomatic way.
During the period that the ban is valid usually between six months and a year your wife will not be able to get a new work permit. But as mentioned earlier, she should be able to move on to your visa. She will just not be able to work. Any work undertaken without a work permit would be a violation of the law and could harm your residency status.
Dear Ali: I have a friend who has just come back from a trip to Israel. But I heard that if you visit Israel you are not allowed to come back to the UAE. Is that right? S, Thailand
Dear S: Oh boy, here we go. First, let me make an important disclaimer: the Jewish people are considered our cousins. We share many customs, history and even our language structure, ethics and religious beliefs are similar: Islam has always recognized Judaism as one of the great monotheistic religions in the world. There are even Jewish people in the Gulf, including the Bahraini ambassador to the United States, Houda Nonoo. Now with that out of the way. We do not associate with the country known by some as Israel, not, as I made clear above, because of its people, but because of its actions in Palestine. One of the things our government considers when allowing entry into the UAE is whether a person has a stamp on his or her passport from Israel. This does not necessarily mean that person won't get a visa, but it is a reason to deny. We do this not only to show solidarity with our Arab brothers and sisters, but also for security reasons.
Of course, there are people who have been to Israel who live in the UAE. Perhaps your friend is smart and asked the Israeli passport control agent not to stamp his or her passport. Though I have obviously never been to Israel, I have heard through the grapevine that this is possible.
Dear Ali: As a newly hired male teacher, I am coming from the US to teach in the UAE. Is it inappropriate for me to wear traditional local clothing at work or in public? VH, Coeur ‘Alene, USA
Dear VH: When it comes to work, it's never inappropriate, nor is it required or expected from expat teachers, but there's more to our national dress than just wearing it. It's about how you wear it, walk in it, sit, eat and greet in it, and it's also about how you act in it.
Many expats don't know that we could easily make fun of a guy for wearing short, Speedo-shaped underwear under his khandoura. That's not something we do. Most of us wear something called a "wizar", which is similar to a sari or a kilt and has to be worn just right. Wearing it is the easier part. To behave properly as an Emirati, now that's where the secret lies. While none of us is perfect, we generally behave the same way in public: not touching women, making sure our khandouras are clean, properly worn and tailored, and not bought from a gift shop after a desert safari. Feel free to try it out, but I know expats who felt cool in the beginning but then quickly switched back to their regular clothes.
Dear Ali: My wife is seven months pregnant and we are not Muslims. I understand that pregnant women are not required to fast during Ramadan. Does this mean that she can drink water in public or would this be considered disrespectful or illegal? JB, Dubai
Dear JB: It's never a straight answer. When you say "in public", do you mean on your house balcony? Or the car park? Or the beach or the mall? When out in a public place such as a shopping centre, I'd advise her to try to avoid drinking because it would be seen as disrespectful. Mall staff would probably ask her to drink in private and, if she continued, she could face criminal charges. I know it may sound harsh to an expat, but try to understand the reasoning behind the fasting law. A blanket law against eating or drinking is clear and simple. We don't want to say it’s OK for a pregnant woman to drink in public and the next morning see hordes of women claiming to be pregnant. The Government is doing its best to avoid misunderstandings by advising Muslims and non-Muslims alike to obey the rules. However, your wife can discreetly drink water in the car or privately in the washroom with little chance of offending anyone. If you visit the most multicultural parts of the country, including Media City and other free zones, you will find many restaurants open for business during the day, although, management will do its best to conceal dining areas. Muslims and non-Muslims work together, and at lunch time, non-Muslims still have the option to eat. There is no law against eating or drinking in private, or against the sound of cutlery hitting a plate or the smell of food. Muslims pass by these eating areas and don't mind hearing people eating.
Dear Ali: In Kuwait they have something called the diwaniyah. How different is this gathering place from the majlis in the UAE? Are they used for different purposes? Also, I always wonder if we should bring gifts or food to a majlis? MC, Abu Dhabi
Dear MC: In Arabian houses, especially in the Gulf, there is what we call the majlis or diwaniyah room. This is where male visitors gather. So, to answer your question, the majlis and diwaniyah serve the exact same purpose, which is as a meeting place. If you are wondering why the space is called diwaniyah in Kuwait and majlis in the UAE, the answer is in the beauty of our language. Different dialects and accents have formed in the Gulf. In Kuwait, the room is called a diwaniyah because it comes from the word diwan, which means a councilor chamber.
A council is usually occupied by men and authorities. These men gather in the evening to relax and discuss less serious matters, so this is how the word diwan led to diwaniyah.
If you say diwaniyah, an Arab will automatically think of a place where men play cards, chat about life and so on. But if you say diwan to the same man, he will immediately think about a sheikh, prince or king's room or chamber. Interesting, isn't it?
This majlis is usually located away from the house, somewhere close to the entrance so visitors can enter and exit easily. It is a great place where men communicate with family, friends, friends of friends and invited guests. Yes, they might gossip, but men are known to gossip positively, unlike, if you ask me, women. Just kidding, ladies. You are not expected to bring food or gifts. You are only asked to make sure there are sandals outside the door before entering, which means there are other guests inside. Say "As-salamu alaykum", shake hands starting from the right and join the club. A majlis does not necessarily need to be in a house, it can be anywhere people gather regularly to meet. For instance, I have a coffee shop in Abu Dhabi that serves traditional coffee. So if you are ever around, stop by and say hello.
Dear Ali: I have been invited to an Emirati friend's house for dinner.
What are the table manners? Are there tables? NJ, Dubai
Dear N J: Yes we do have tables but most of us don't dine at tables! We eat at the majlis, which has cushions lining the room and pillows to rest our backs on. The main seat, located in the middle of the majlis, is given to the eldest family member. All others will be seated to his right or left, according to the age hierarchy.
The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) instructed Muslims about eating manners. When he was eating with a young man, he asked him to thank God, then eat with his right hand the food that was near and to the right of his dish.
We don't have to worry about what utensil goes on the left or the right because we don't use them. We eat with our hands.
Well, I know what you might be thinking: how disgusting. But it's not. Using our hands is healthier and cleaner than using a spoon. No one but myself will be eating with my hands, and God knows how many people have used the same spoon and whether it was washed properly.
When the meal is served, you don't just dig in. There is an etiquette: your hands need to be thoroughly washed before you take the first bite. The serving trays are usually large enough to serve between six and 12 people, so you might not even notice you are sharing a dish.
As I said before, use only your right hand at the table or when offering any food or drink to someone. The left hand is traditionally used for personal hygiene, so it is not supposed to touch food meant for others. This is why a long time ago, thieves used to have their right hands cut off. It was an added disgrace because they would have had to use the left hand for everything.
While scooping rice from the tray in front of you, move your hand to the edge of the tray. Make a fist so the rice doesn't spill, then put it in your mouth. Remember to scoop from the same spot you started from.
This is the traditional way of eating. In our families today, some might eat in this manner while others will be using spoons and forks, just like you.
Dear Ali: I am a Muslim brother who has just moved to Jumeirah. My wife is from Europe, but recently converted to Islam, and I was wondering if you knew of anywhere she could go to learn the Holy Quran and the sunnahs of Prophet Mohammed, ideally with other European Muslim sisters. KK, Dubai
Dear KK: We are glad to have you in our country, brother. You also happen to be in luck, as the Jumeirah Islamic Learning Centre is right in your neighborhood.
Located on Al Was I Road, the JILC is an organization that helps new Muslims learn Arabic and more about Islamic culture. I'm sure, given how many Europeans live in Jumeiah, that the group will have a few members from your wife's continent. You can call 04 394 9461 to double-check, or sign up on the group's Yahoo or Facebook pages. From my research, it seems the JILC has about one event a week, everything from guest speakers to discussions and Holy Quran study. The name of the woman in charge is Sanoona, and you can contact her on 050 748 3834.
Dubai also has the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. The centre (www.cultures.ae) also offers mosque tours and walking tours of the Bastakiya heritage area, which I would recommend. The traffic round here is heavy but your wife could always hop on the Metro. Further afield, she could head to Al Ain and visit the Zayed Centre for New Muslims. It is renowned for its wide range of activities and excellent facilities. In Abu Dhabi, the Islamic Affairs Ministry can direct you to various Islamic studies groups around the capital.
So you see, your wife is in good company in the UAE.
Dear Ali: You make it seem so easy to be friends with locals, which is encouraging. However, I have an example that highlights how tricky it can be. I am a western man who wants to invite my male Emirati colleague for dinner. But if I invite him, will it be just him? Or him and his wife? Or his whole family? Conversely, if I am invited to his place, should I show up alone or bring my wife and/or kids? FA, Abu Dhabi
Dear FA: After reading your question, I got this funny image in my head of a caravan of locals arriving at your door: mom, dad, six or seven children, grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles, etc. That would be enough to set back Emirati/expat relations for years! So fear not. If you invite a male colleague to have a meal at your house, he will not assume he should bring his family. We don't have this custom. I know it is quite common for western couples to eat together, and local couples visit each other, too, but usually only when they know each other very well.
More often, though, when Emiratis get together to socialize, the men and women dine separately, as you might have encountered in the traditional majlis. Once you are aware of this custom, you can phrase your invitation accordingly. For example, if you invite your colleague and his family, and he is hesitant to accept, you can say: "If your family is busy, you can come alone, if you prefer." You allow him to save face and avoid the awkwardness of telling you he doesn't want to bring his wife. On the other hand, we will usually be quite up front about his intentions. If your colleague invites you to his home but doesn't mention your wife, you can be sure he is only inviting you. This is especially true if he asks you to go out for a coffee or sheesha or on a trip to the mall. He will make a special request if he means for you to bring your wife and/or children. The same etiquette applies, by the way, for women. If a woman is invited over by a local and brings her husband, her hostess would be quite shocked. Like I said, it just isn't our custom. Our houses are usually set up to host men and women separately. See, it really is easy to make Emirati friends!
Dear Ali: What is the national tree of the UAE? AS, Sharjah
Dear AS: All of God's creations are remarkable, but imagine how special a plant must be to grow in desert conditions. Now that the heat has kicked up a notch, you can imagine how important trees were to our forefathers. They provided shade, food, medicine and shelter, all scarce in the region.
The two trees most commonly associated with the UAE are the ghaf and the date palm. We hold much passion, respect and care for both, so our government hasn't chosen one over the other. The palm tree, or nakheel, is much celebrated. The Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage hosts the annual Liwa Date Festival in the Western Region and the UAE is home to the Date Palm Tissue Culture Laboratory, which has mapped out the tree's gene pool and used the information to mass propagate date palms. The date also plays an important part in our Islamic tradition, having been mentioned in the holy Quran. The Prophet was said to have chosen the date to break his fasts during Ramadan.
The ghaf tree is fascinating, too. To cope with the arid surroundings, the ghaf has roots that can go as deep as 30 metres to reach groundwater. Try uprooting one of those! The wood is still used in construction, especially on farms. The ghaf is also legendary for its medicinal uses: burning the leaves is supposed to help eye problems, while the bark can be used for a host of breathing problems. You can find out more about the ghaf tree and how to support conservation efforts at www.savetheghaftree.org.
Dear Ali: I was involved in a discussion with some Arab friends. When another person joined the conversation, their voices got progressively louder. They kept shouting "Wallah" and it almost felt like they were fighting. Is this usual? BB, Abu Dhabi
Dear BB: When Arab friends talk to each other, sometimes it sounds as if they are going to come to blows, but I assure you this is just our way of expressing ourselves. There's no need to worry, unless your friends start moving furniture around!
It might be that you are still getting used to our language, too. We have a lot of sounds that are difficult to pronounce for English speakers, and a lot of these sounds might seem harsh or angry. Arab men especially are quite dramatic when it comes to talking. It might have something to do with our majlis culture, in which we all try to out-do each other when it comes to telling stories.
One of the classic ways we show our emotion is to use the word "Wallah", which translates to "I swear to God". We repeat this phrase if we really want to make a point or have others truly believe in what we are saying.
I think body language is almost as important to communication as words. Arabs, for example, are close talkers (between same genders), which might come across as confrontational if viewed from afar. We also use all manner of gesticulations, which might be different from western gestures.
It's all about adding some spice to what we say. If I am listening to someone's bad news, I want them to know I sympathise with them, so I would start with a soft voice to reassure them. If I see that the news has upset them, I might increase the volume, and say something like: "Oh really" or "No way!" Of course, there are soft-spoken Arabs, too, just as there are loud westerners. But don't mistake the loudness for anger; there's a good chance we're just enjoying a chat.