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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Emirati Ligamat

One of the most popular Emirati desert dishes is ‘Ligamat’, which are small dumplings made of butter, milk, sugar, flour,saffron & cardamom, deep-fried and then drizzled with date syrup.  They are served at anytime, as a breakfast food or a late night dessert. ‘Ligamat’ happen to be the most popular item in the cultural meals we offer at SMCCU. Therefore, this week, we would like to share with you the recipe so you can try making them at home.



 2 1/2 cups flour

1 tablespoon yeast

2-2 1/4 cups warm milk

3 tablespoons yogurt

3 tablespoons cornflour

1 teaspoon salt

Vegetable oil (for frying)

Sesame seeds (optional)


Sift dry the ingredients into a bowl.

Add in the yoghurt and milk and mix them well until the batter is somewhat thicker than a pancake batter consistency. The mixture should not be watery or too thick.

Rest the batter, allowing it to rise in a warm place for 1/2 an hour.

Heat the vegetable oil. When hot, drop a teaspoonful of the batter and cook until it just turns golden brown.

Drain the oil and place the ‘Ligamat’ immediately into the date syrup and toss it well, allowing it to coat the dumpling.

When coated completely remove and place on a serving dish.

Sprinkle sesame seeds over it before serving (optional)

Serve warm and “saha wa afieh’ or as the French say ‘bon appétit’ :)

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The Birth of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

Muslims around the world mark this Monday, January 13th, the birth of the prophet Muhammed, Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH), the last prophet of God who spread the message of Islam. He was born on Monday, 12 Rabi’ Al-Awal, in the Islamic calendar, in the year 570 in the Gregorian calendar, in the town of Mecca, which is in now Saudi Arabia. His name derives from the Arabic verb ‘hamada’, meaning ‘to praise, to glorify’. Prophet Muhammed was an orphan whose father ‘Abdallah’ died before he was born and his mother ‘Amina’ died when he was only 6 years old. He was raised by his Grand father ‘Abdul Multalib’ and later by his uncle ‘Abu Talib.’  He was known across Mecca for his kindness of heart, correctness of manners and purity of morals. At the age of 40 he received the revelation from God on the mount of Hira, through the Angel Gabriel and spent the rest of his life uniting mankind together for the purpose of worshipping the One God of Adam and all the other prophets, peace be upon them all.

During his 60 years of life prophet Muhammad (PBUH) taught several important principles and morals, and even set forth rules for combat. He taught Muslims that all humans are equal regardless of their race, color and nationality. Moreover he instructed them not to hurt, hate, transgress against, put down or despise others. He was not only a prophet and messenger of God, but a social reformer, a moral guide, a statesman, a faithful friend, a devoted husband and a loving father. Therefore, he is considered the best example of behavior for Muslims, and according to the Quran, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was the most excellent example for all of humanity. He was sent as a mercy to all mankind, he said:

The compassionate one (God) has mercy on those who are merciful, if you show mercy to those on earth, He Who is in heaven will show mercy to you

Even non-Muslim historians recognize him to as one of the most successful personalities in history. His complete biography has been authenticated and circulated amongst scholars around the world.

Here is some of what these scholars said about Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), amongst them Michael H. Hart author of the book “The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History” New York: Hart Publishing Company, Inc. 1978, p. 33, who said

My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular level.

This is what Karen Armstrong, best-selling British author said about the compassion of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

In his 23 years of prophethood he transformed the Arab peninsula form paganism to the worship of one God; from tribal wars to solidarity and cohesion; from moral bankruptcy and lawlessness to the highest standard of moral excellence and disciplined living.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who spent his life spreading the message of Islam and peace, left us with these important words in his last sermon before his death, in the year 632 in Medina also in Saudi Arabia, reminding us to live in peace and good relations with God, oneself and others:

O People, listen to me in earnest, worship ALLAH, say your five daily prayers (Salah), fast during the month of Ramadan, and give your wealth in Zakat. Perform Hajj if you can afford to.

All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action…

Remember, one day you will appear before ALLAH and answer your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.”

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5 Cultural Facts You Should Know About The UAE

There are many interesting facts about the United Arab Emirates that we share daily via our twitter account. Here are five basic ones:


1. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven emirates, which united on December 2, 1971. They are Abu Dhabi (the capital), Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Qaiwain.

2. The UAE is an Arab country, a state member of the League of Arab States and also a member of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Arabic is the official language, yet English is widely used.

3. The UAE is a predominantly Muslim country.  Islam is the basis of the UAE’s culture, political system and way of life, yet it is also multi-cultural and tolerant towards other religions. Everyone is free to practice their own religion and UAE’s residents observe the various festive occasions such as Eid, Christmas and Diwali.

4. There are over 200 different nationalities residing in the UAE making it one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. Over the last decade, the country’s population has increased from 3.4 million  in 2001 to an estimated 8.2 million in 2011. Mostly due to immigration, UAE also ranks among the highest in the world in terms of population growth.


 5. Emirati clothing is an important part of the history and heritage of the UAE and is a source of pride. Men in the UAE wear a white cloak ‘kandura’ which is also called a ‘dishdash’ or a ‘thawb’ in other GCC countries. It is also similar to the desert clothes used in North Africa. The women in UAE wear a long flowing black gown known as the ‘abaya.’ The abaya is actually an elegant piece of attire used to cover the female’s clothing. It can range from plain, practical discreet designs similar to the ones worn in the past to more modern, elaborate and colorful ones with intricate designs.

To know more about UAE culture and traditions visit SMCCU which runs a variety of programs:

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The Leading Role of Emirati Women

An old Arabic saying goes: “A woman is half the society.” It is often quoted in literary pieces and speeches across the Arab world to signify that a society is not complete without the pivotal role that women play within it. That has very much been felt in the UAE where women’s empowerment in the past, and in the present made a huge impact in the society and will continue to do so in the future. Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, stressed women’s important role when he said:

Arab women make up half our community. They are sometimes better than men. Today, they are rising to greater heights in our society and are able to achieve goals within our communities. They will only grow.”

In the past, women in the UAE had a major role in taking care of the family while their men were away for several months pearl diving or trading overseas. Many women worked as traders, making handicrafts from palm trees and selling them at the markets to support themselves. After the output of  oil in 1958, women’s role within UAE society gradually expanded and they assumed more roles.

The importance of women participating in the work force as well as in their home was also acknowledged by the late president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. His wife,  Sheikha Fatima, currently heads the General Women’s Federation and continues to promote training, education, and advancement of women’s status. Sheikha Latifa bint Hamdan, wife of the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, demonstrated great support for women, ensuring they received a solid education, and so did wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Sheikha Hind bint Maktoum bin Juma Al Maktoum, who is also an active campaigner for greater opportunities for UAE women.

The UAE’s Constitution reflected this strong belief in women which empowered them to assume their rightful place in society by guaranteeing that they have equal status to men, the same legal rights, claim to titles and access to education and even the same right to practice professions as men. Undoubtedly education played a huge role in the advancement of women in UAE. Female university graduates represent today 70 per cent of the total number of graduates in the UAE – among the highest worldwide, and more than 70 per cent of Emiratis in federal higher education institutions are women.

49851There are many examples of Emirati women who challenged the norms and worked alongside their male counterparts. They became business owners, ministers,  parliamentarian and pilots ; they also gained access to the judiciary system and diplomatic corps. In fact women in UAE nowadays make up two-thirds of the government workforce. To name a few, HE Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi made history in 2004 as the first woman to hold a ministerial post, Kholoud Al Dhaheri was appointed as the first woman judge and Maryam Al Saffar, was the first Emirati woman Controller of  the Dubai Metro.

Capt. Al Hamli, UAE’s first female pilot attributed the success of Emirati women to the UAE rulers. In an interview she pointed,

“UAE leaders have encouraged women to work in sectors which were restricted to men. The leadership has had great confidence in the capabilities of women, who make half of the UAE society, to take up major challenges and to assume senior positions”. 

Emirati women proved themselves in the other fields such as sports; they challenged themselves by reaching high summits and finish lines. Elham al-Qasimi was not only the first UAE but Arab woman to reach the North pole, while Nahla  AlRostamani is UAE’s female Formula1 driver.

The UAE made huge steps to advance women and boost their contribution to development. No wonder it ranked first in the Middle East and North Africa region in having the narrowest gender gap, according to the World Gender Gap Report 2013. The UAE continues to demonstrate its commitment to empower women through supporting stronger roles for them to attain while maintaining tradition and culture. Emirati women are making their mark in every field, they will continue to grow and prosper and will surely break down any barriers that come their way.

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Students Celebrate UAE National Day at the “Treasures of the UAE” Art Competition 2014

As a part of the 42nd National Day Celebrations, the SMCCU held its second annual “Treasures of the UAE” Art Competition 2013 Awards Ceremony in the the historic Al Fahidi District of Dubai.  Young artists between the ages of 7- 18 years were asked to submit original current art work depicting one of the historic sites across the UAE. 61 schools participated,  and submitted up to 12 artworks divided by age group. Our Judges this year from the Emirates Fine Arts Society, reviewed 283 submissions and chose 24 winners whose artwork is now featured in the Treasures of the UAE 2014 Calendar.

The awards ceremony was attended by the winning artists and their families along with school representatives, judges, and sponsors. Our generous sponsors this year, Nestle, Wild Wadi, Pepsico, and Jones, Lang LaSalle helped to make this year’s competition a success.  We would also like to thank all of those who  participated including volunteers, support staff team, Lucy, Debbie, Caroline, Yvette, Jess & Joyce. Together, we further our joint aim of highlighting the rich history and humble beginnings of this great nation we all call home.  The SMCCU is keen to raise awareness through many such events about the local culture, traditions and religion of the UAE. As a part of the celebrations, 120+ guests were treated to an Emirati cultural meal and explanation of the traditions surrounding food and honoring guests.  The meal was followed by a visit to the historic Diwan Mosque, where our Managing Director, Nasif Kayed, explained the significance of the mosque in the daily lives of Emiratis and muslims worldwide.

One of our visitors had this to say about the event:

Just a small note to express my gratitude for a  time well spent  this morning at the ‘treasures of the UAE ‘ presentation ceremony.

Although I am a regular visitor to Bastakhiya as an architect and a keen amateur photographer , it is the first time I visited SMCCU at the invitation of my brother as my nephew was one of the prize recipients.

I was impressed by the general courtesy ,hospitality and the friendliness of everybody from the top man to the servers! Enjoyed the meal and the explanation of the culture and customs that came along with it. The English explanations of the youngsters were flawless and everything was conducted with passion and in keeping with the motto – ‘open doors, open minds!’

Organizations such as yours are the answer to the current world in turmoil -  that brings cultures and beliefs together , endorsing ,- that understanding  and respect for each other are of prime importance for peace in humanity.

Thank you and wish you every success to opening doors and minds effectively and prolifically !!

Antonio Dias, Gems Modern School

View the Winning Artwork or our Participants Booklet

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