The Importance of Dates in the UAE

The Date and the Date Palm have been an important part of survival in the UAE for close to 7000 years, the oldest seeds found on Delma Island dating back to 5110BC. So important, that the United Arab Emirates could become the first Globally Important Agriculture Heritage System (GIAHS) in the Near East countries in 2015, and in August UAE University completed its first phase of Date Identification and Classification in the UAE. The Date Palm

The UAE being recognized as a globally important region for date farming in not knew news to the Bedouin and local farmers. They have utilized and harvested dates as part of their food source for survival in the UAE, as well as the use of the Date Palm tree for shelters built from its stalks and leaves.   What makes the date fruit so important and perfect for survival in the desert environment is that they are easily digested, allowing the body to take full use of its nutrients. It reduces bad cholesterol, and contains, iron, potassium, Vitamins, B, A and, K, and 15 minerals. No wonder Bedouins were known to have survived on dates and camel milk alone. They can be dried and stored for future consumption and eaten year round.Yellow dates

The UAE currently grows about 160 varieties of dates and 55 species have been initially identified in the UAE University study.  There are a staggering 44 million date palm trees in the UAE that produce 76,000 tons of dates per year.  Dates are mentioned 26 times in the Quran, and the Prophet Mohammed PBUH was known to have eaten and sustained himself on dates alone. Therefore, the local population is not only connected to the Date Palm as a part of their livelihood, but it also holds special religious significance. Muslims throughout the world during Ramadan break their fast with dates.

This year, the Emirates International Date Festival will be held this year in Abu Dhabi from 24th to the 29th of November 2014. It’s a great way to learn more about this invaluable fruit.

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The Wind tower, an Early Feature of Residential Life in Dubai

Ancient Egyptian WindTower Home

Ancient Egyptian WindTower Home, 3000BC

Areeh Home with Windtower, Dubai Museum

Areeh Home with Windtower, Dubai Museum

A wind tower or Barjeel is the traditional architecture found throughout the Arabian Gulf, in particular Dubai & Bahrain, and also throughout Persia, parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Its origins go as far back as Ancient Egypt, with examples of wind tower construction dating back to 3100BC.  In arid climates the wind tower acts as a ventilation system allowing hot air to rise out the top of it, and cooler directed winds to flow down into the home.  Wind tower houses along the Dubai Creek were constructed of palm fronds known as Bait Areesh and was the standard material used for constructing homes in the region  pre-1900’s. The Coral or Sea Stone home locally known as Bait Morjan   was constructed using sea stone and coral from the Dubai Creek which was stacked in a bricking fashion, set with a mixture of mud, sand, gypsum and sometimes limestone.  Later the building was covered with a layer of sand, mud and rock for added insulation and protection. The oldest of these types of homes date back to the late 1800’s.  Historians attribute the  abrupt change in building materials to a fire that swept through the Deira side of Creek in 1894, virtually destroying most of the market and surrounding Areesh homes. Residents looked to a more fire resistant material in the construction of their homes and sea stone and coral were readily available.


Dar Al Nadwa Cira 1925

Dar Al Nadwa, Al Fahidi Historic District constructed in 1925

At the turn the 20th century these buildings were considered to be the best type of home, and in the early 1900’s only a few landmarks, such as the Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House in Al Shindagah were built of sea stone and coral using wind tower technology.  In the past these types of buildings signified wealth and status. The later more elaborate homes were built with a central courtyard or majlis commonly seen in Islamic architecture, and the wind towers would be situated on one or more exterior rooms.  This type of construction became more common as merchants and traders, and local families settled along the Dubai Creek and their living conditions gradually improved. The homes along the Dubai’s Creek eastern shore in Bur Dubai are separated into two sections, the Al Fahidi Historic District (formerly known as Al Bastakiya) and Al Shindagah where the Al Maktoum’s ruling family resided. The neighborhoods are divided by   the Souq Al Kabir or Meena Bazzar,

In the 1980’s a restoration project began to preserve these original homes along the Dubai Creek.  The area known as Al Fahidi Historic District, (Al Bastakiya) is the center of the restoration effort and the neighborhood, open to the public contains more than 55 homes. The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding has called this neighborhood home since 2004, and occupies one of the original wind tower houses.  Visitors can take a tour of the neighborhood with the centre year round. The second phase of restoration is continuing in Al Shindagah area and currently you will find a labyrinth of historic homes and Mosques, as well as the Diving Village.  The Sheikh Saeed House now a museum, is one the original residences of the ruling family and formerly the seat of government in Dubai.

These historic areas are open year round, but the best times to visit are in the cooler months so that you can spend more time in the beautiful neighborhoods meandering through the homes, art galleries, restaurants, boutique hotels, museums and cultural centre.

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Ramadan Explained by SMCCU

The Holy Month of Ramadan, or the Month of Fasting is one of the five Acts of Worship in Islam.  More than that, it is a time for spiritual growth through self-control, discipline, and patience;  an exercise in controlling one’s desires and increasing one’s good works in the hope of forming a new balance in our lives that lasts far past Ramadan.  To the average observer Ramadan seems to be more about “not eating and drinking” than anything else. For Muslims, this act of abstaining from food and drink during daylight hours is the core of the worship, but certainly not the only spiritual act.  Self- reflection, controlling one’s bad habits, abstaining from lawful things, such as food and water help one to appreciate and value such great gifts without which we cannot survive. It teaches one to not be wasteful, “eat to live, not live to eat”.  The Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him said about eating and drinking “one third of your stomach is for food, one third for drink, and leave one third empty so it can do its work,”. During daylight hours one also abstains from lawful relations with one’s spouse, to teach one another to appreciation and value each other and to not take for granted the gifts that the Creator has given us in our lives, companions to find comfort in. On the other hand, abstaining from the unlawful in our actions and deeds, things such as arrogance, vanity, gossip and back stabbing, cursing, disrespecting one’s parents or those in authority are integral to the fasting process. The body, the eyes, the tongue and the ears, all acutely aware of the things we should avoid.    In effect it is an exercise to enhance one’s character from the inside out. Charitable works are emphasized as well as looking after the poor, and increasing our prayers, particularly at night.

In a city with more than 230 nationalities, cultures and religions, Ramadan may feel like a time when the city sleeps during the day and becomes alive at night.  Expats and visitors may be curious and cautious at the same time; why are most restaurants closed?  Are the beaches open? Malls? Are there special hours for supermarkets? Can I eat in public? Should I wear special clothes?

While most restaurants are closed during the day, Malls, supermarkets, and most establishments maintain daytime open hours with extended evening hours.  Employers follow the guidelines set up by the Federal Government and private sector companies are required to shorten working hours during Ramadan, and this applies to all employees, not just Muslims.

Eating brazenly in public could result in a ticket or a trip down to the police station so common sense applies. If you are in your car and need a drink, be discreet. It is simply a courtesy extended to fasting Muslims, and most visitors quickly catch on to the rules without a problem.  Are some Muslims exempt from fasting? Not all Muslims fast during Ramadan, there are several exceptions; in particular young children, the elderly and feeble, pregnant and nursing mothers, the traveler and people with chronic illnesses that prevent them from fasting. Adults and care givers cook and attend to the needs of those not fasting and according to Islam this a considered a charitable act, so relax and again use common sense read, visit SMCCU, take advantage of the quiet roads and retail establishments during the day. Capitalize on the kindness of people; join Muslims for an Iftar, an authentic one, not in a restaurant or at a resort. Visit a work colleague, friend, a Muslim you know at a home Iftar or join a tent or a masjid Iftar feeding the poor by handing out juice boxes, or a fruit like an orange or a banana. It’s about everyone coming together fasting or not, in an effort to improve the relations we have with everyone in our community.

As to the topic of appropriate dress, keep in mind that modesty in dress is emphasized in Ramadan and all should maintain the same standards that are requested of them in malls and public places every day.  Shoulders should be covered for both men and women, and women and men should mind there lengths, keeping in mind the heightened spirituality during the Holy Month of Ramadan, a month in which all of us should reach out to each other and exercise the absolute ultimate show of humanity and tolerance towards one another. For a list of Ramadan Do’s & Dont’s visit our Ramadan Etiquette page on our website.


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Pearls and Pearl Diving


A Source of Beauty and Life

According to legend, “pearls are raindrops filled with moonlight that have fallen into the sea and were swallowed by oysters”. And in various cultures and religions, pearls have been associated with beauty, longevity, and perfection. It was referenced in the Holy Quran as a symbol of purity. In this region the pearl was not only an object of beauty, it had been a source of life for centuries.


The warm waters of the Arabian Gulf produced highly prized colorful pearls with incredible lustre and luminosity. The UAE, in particular, produced the finest pearls in the world for over 7000 years. Pearl fishing was an industry that the whole community thrived on. In the early 20th century 69% of the total population of Dubai, 10,000 people, were engaged in pearling.


The Journey


The pearl diving “Gahus” journey started with building the vessel, repairing it and getting the crew, which consisted of the captain “Nakhuda”, his assistant “Mijadimi”, a singer “Nahham”, the divers “Ghais”, the puller “Saib” and the trainee (as young as 10) and the cook “Jallas”. Each vessel, ranging from “Al-Banoosh” (15-30 feet long) to “Jalboot” (15-100 feet long), carried 15 – 18 crew member. Huge fleets of pearling vessels would set out to the oyster banks each season. The pearl fishing season was from April to September, and the crew survived on fishing, rice, dates and coffee, during the trip.


A Pearl Divers’ Life

Although the pearling industry offered potential wealth, it was also very dangerous for the divers, both physically and financially. They were given an advanced loan (some rupees and rice) at the beginning of the season to leave for their family to survive and that amount would be reimbursed at the end of the trip with the pearl findings. If the season were not fruitful, the debt would be passed to the following season or to the next generation.

5ed25539-7459-4e33-9906-ccab2faed477Pearl divers worked from sunrise to sunset, wearing only a nose clip, leather finger protectors, a stone weight and occasionally a cotton suit to protect them from jellyfish. They would dive for 90 seconds, around 40 meters deep, and they would descend about 30 times in one dayand collect about 12 shells in each dive. Once back on the vessel they begin to open the oysters with the “Meflaga”, a curved knife specially designed to open and search for the pearl. If a pearl were found it was given to the captain, who would keep it and negotiate with the merchant, waiting at the banks on dhows, and the diver would get a small share.


Pearl Trading

Pearl trading was a weighing pearlshighly skilled profession and a way of socializing, as traders would gather in coffee houses to do business and examine pearls. The traders had special grading tools to separate, measure and weigh the pearls. The value of the pearl depended mainly on its size, lustre, colour, complexion and shape. Pearls were often named according to their shape and color. “Dana” was the name of the most perfect shape.

The whole economy depended on the pearling season, as the money would circulate in the market and allow the community to yield the benefit. Pearls from the region were exported to India, Persia and Turkey and sold in European and Chinese markets and the UAE pearl industry boomed as it integrated into global markets.


The Decline

The decline of the pearl industry in the 1940’s was due to many factors, the Japanese production of the cheaper culture pearls in 1921, the 1930’s depression that ruined the wealth of many customers, and the ban imposed by the Indian government on pearl imports from the Gulf in 1947-48. However, the discovery of oil in the 1960’s and the birth of the industry offered many divers and fishermen a new and easy source of income.


The Preserved Tradition

The pearl diving tradition and cultural heritage is a source of pride in the UAE. The Pearl Museum in the National Bank of Dubai’s Head office is home to a unique pearl collection which is a personal collection and donation of Sultan al Owais, a son of a pearl merchant and one of the NBD’s founders. The Museum is located in on the Creek and opened in 2003 for visitors. Its aim is to preserve the history of this tradition and to remind people of the origins of the Emirates and what life was like before the discovery of oil. Booking is required prior to visiting.

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The History of Coffee & The Art of Serving It

While sipping your coffee, have you ever wondered where did coffee originate from? Have you ever seen the statement that elite restaurants pride themselves with by saying “we proudly serve select Arabica beans”? At times coffee bags at the store are labeled as such. What does that exactly tell you when you read it? Well, you might be surprised to know that Arabs were the first to cultivate such a plant and create the drink that we all call coffee. Originally called ‘Gahwa’, then ‘Qahwa’ in classic Arabic then coffee in English. The beans which derived from the word ‘Bon’ in Arabic, are used to make the Italian espresso, later called Turkish coffee, today watered down and called Americano.

unnamed-2Coffee originated from Yemen, a country in the Arab peninsula where coffee grew in its highlands. It was a Yemeni goatherd who noticed that his goats became energized after eating beans from a particular shrub. He experimented eating them, but they were too hard, so he tried cooking them with his food and finally thought of roasting them and grinding them and having them as a drink instead. And that is how coffee came into being.

While some claim that Ethiopia is where the original plant was first discovered, it was actually the Arabs who were the first to discover, cultivate, and trade coffee. In the 15th century coffee spread from Yemen to the rest of the Arab peninsula, North Africa and Turkey via land. It spread to the rest of Europe and the America’s by sea from the original coffee port of  ‘Mokha’ in Yemen, which was the name given to the best Arabica coffee bean, Mocha. So when you are ordering your next coffee remember where it came from.


It is part of the Bedouin, and therefore Emirati, culture to       serve coffee as a  welcoming gesture to honor guests upon their arrival. Making and serving  coffee has become not only a tradition but also an art. The Arabic coffee,  called ‘Qahwa’ in Arabic, is different from the standard coffee. It is made of   lightly roasted beans, mixed with spices such as cardamom, saffron or cloves  and then grounded and brewed. Coffee is served from a traditional pot with a  long and extended spout, called the ‘Dallah’, (which is the symbol on the  Emirati Dirahm coin) and poured into small coffee cups called the “Fenjan’, and usually accompanied with dates.


BbW-I4HCIAAY13ECoffee was an important aspect of Bedouin life. The task of serving coffee to guests was assigned to the youngest male member of the family. He was a  silent server, learning from the elderly‘s conversations while observing the  body language of the guests for signs to refill their cups. The coffee was served while standing, starting from the right of the tent to the left and was poured in small amounts, filling only one fourth of the cup, making it not too hot yet warm enough for the guest to sip and savor the taste. If the guest wanted more  coffee he would extend his arm, otherwise he would shake it meaning he doesn’t want a refill.

Serving coffee is an Emarati tradition, an act of kindness  and hospitality, which we at SMCCU proudly enjoy to welcome our guests with.

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The Abaya

Most Emirati women wear the ‘Abaya’, which is the traditional female black robe that is seen all over the United Arab Emirates. The Abaya has become a cultural feature in countries that form the Gulf Cooperation Council, Bahrain, KSA, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the UAE. However wearing the Abaya is not limited only to this region, as it is also worn in some countries in North Africa, such as Morocco, and elsewhere but in more colorful fabrics and designs. The main reason for wearing the Abaya in the Gulf was to observe modesty and as a protection from the harsh desert environment. By wearing such a loose garment the women protected their clothes from the effects of the sun and sand blown around. Many of the visitors to our center often ask “why is the Abaya black?” The Abaya evolved and became black because it is a discreet and elegant color. While the black color is mistakenly thought to attract heat, it actually filters UV rays.  Recent studies show that black radiates heat waves and creates a shadow underneath the object, similar to the sunglasses.

(AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

(AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Historically, the Abaya was originally a completely black, simple square, designed to be loose, light and flowing, and was worn by being placed on top of the head and reached down to the ankles. The Abaya changed over the years and it is now worn on the shoulders like a cloak and is made from various materials. It is often misunderstood as a dress, but women normally wear their colorful traditional or modern dress underneath it, and wear their Abayas only when they are out of the house. It is usually worn with a scarf ‘shalya’ which covers the hair, and some choose to wear it with a veil, which covers the face. While there are many different styles, the way it’s worn has to do with the many factors.  For example, the tradition of the individual, culture of a region or politics of a nation.  The Abaya in itself as an attire, does not stem from religion, the fact of the matter is that religion states the purpose of draping a garment on when going out  is modesty so you are not showing off in public, as a protocol of modesty. Modesty applies to males and females alike and is manifested in all faiths as you look back at the way we all used to dress in the past especially when one is practicing their faith.

Amal-Murad-Designer-Dubai-Fashion-Week-2010-Collection Due to fashion development and technologies, the Abaya evolved from the traditional modest completely black and simple design, into many different styles with colorful embroideries, belts and tassels. Some even have jewels around the collar or on the sleeves.  Basic and designer Abayas are available now in the UAE market, and abroad suiting different tastes, from the simple to the more extravagant, and accordingly their price ranges from 100 to 1000s of dirhams. Certain malls are known in Dubai for offering a various range of Abayas.

The Abaya is extremely practical and is a source of pride to our Emirati women, even among the younger generation, who preserve it and wear it gracefully. It is up to the individual to be modest or not, each has his/her own view on that. On the other hand, wearing the Abaya is a choice and not by force, although women’s comfort zone plays a big role in adapting to the environment that they are in where each person decides for themselves.

While visiting our cultural centre, you have the chance to try on a Abaya, take photos, experience local cuisine while learning more about the culture and heritage of the UAE.

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