Hajj Explained by SMCCU & Eid Mubarak

Issue 45

Elements of Culture

Hajj Explained

One of the 5 Acts of Worship

During this lunar calendar month of Dhul Hijah, millions of pilgrims from all over the world will make their way to the city Mecca to visit the Kabbah, the first house and holiest place of worship. Tradition holds that the Kabbah is built near the very spot Adam and Eve first prayed on earth, and is rebuilt by Ibrahim and his son Ismail – an order from Allah. Since that day, the Kabbah has been a place of pilgrimage. Today, Muslims from all levels of society, all cultures & colors, male & female make the trip once in a life time to this place as was taught in the tradition of the Prophet Mohammed PBUH. Pilgrims perform rituals which commemorate the story of the Prophet Ibrahim. The Hajj, one of the 5 acts of worship is due upon all Muslims and is to be performed once in a lifetime if you have the means (financial) and you are physically able to do so, and the path to Mecca is safe. It is a time for spiritual contemplation, asking for forgiveness from the Lord, and reflecting on one’s life.


Pilgrimage to Mecca – Hajj


Pilgrims on the Mountain of Arafat

Unity of Mankind

The unity and equality of all pilgrims start with the dress. Men wear two pieces of unstitched white cloth and women wear a simple dress with no frills, symbolic yet meaningful. The purpose is to humble and remind us that we are all one human race, equal except by what is in our hearts and our good deeds, which can only be judged by God/Allah. In summary, pilgrims from all over gather in worship no separation between them in any form (color, language, ethnicity, status or background) seeking forgiveness and Mercy. Once all rituals are all fulfilled, the Hajj is complete and pilgrims will celebrate Eid Al Adha, the Festival of the Sacrifice.

Eid Al Adha
The Eid begins with a congregational Eid Prayer held after the dawn prayers the morning after the Day of Arafat, one of the most important parts of the pilgrimage. That day, worshippers gather at the “Mountain of Mercy” from the break of dawn until sunset. The following day after the Eid Prayers, most Muslims will sacrifice a sheep, whose meat is distributed in thirds – 1/3 to your immediate family, 1/3 to friends and neighbors 1/3 to the poor people. It is a happy occasion where the Hajj goers are congratulated and people gather to share a meal and gifts. These festivities last for 5 days in the tradition of the Prophet Mohammed, PBUH.

Please visit our website at www.cultures.ae for more information about our programs or by contacing the SMCCU offices at 9714 353 6666. To Share, Like or Download a PDF version of this article – Issue 45 – Hajj Explained


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Back to School with the SMCCU

Each year the SMCCU is keen to be a part of the cultural induction and training that takes place at local international schools throughout the UAE.  This year the SMCCU saw more that 35 schools’ staff and teachers in the month of August, and will continue to participate in new and returning staff training year round.  Visiting the centre in one the oldest historic neighborhoods in Dubai is an excellent and interesting way to experience Emirati hospitality and culture as well as enjoying an open Q & A session which is meant to help acclimate staff to living, working and teaching in Dubai. Top schools such as King’s Dubai, Gems World Academy, Bradenton Prep, American Academy Al Mizhar, Dubai American Academy, Jumeirah College, Universal American School, The School of Research Science, Raffles International, Jumeirah Baccalaureate, Greenfield Community School, Horizon International School, The Sheffield School, Deira International School, American School of Dubai, Star International Schools, Nord Anglica, and Victoria International School attend our programs year on year. Several local universities have chosen to participate in our student orientation programs, and local international schools participate in bespoke cultural programs throughout the year.  Teachers utilize our programs to support the KHDA and international social studies and natural sciences curriculums. With a variety of subjects available related to Dubai’s rich history and vibrate present, these programs offer an alternative hands on learning environment for students to experience local culture. To find out more about what we have on offer, visit http://www.cultures.ae or email us at schools@cultures.ae.

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SMCCU Hosts Guests from around the Globe during Ramadan

The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding has been hosting guests during the month of Ramadan since 1998. The program began with the founder Abdullah Bin Eisa Al Serkal and other volunteers  who invited expats into their homes to experience Ramadan with the family.

Home Visit Ramadan 1998

Home Visit Ramadan 1998

In 1999, the SMCCU hosted its first Ramadan Tent at the Landmark Jumeirah Mosque During the month of Ramadan.

Ramadan Tent 1999 at the Jumeirah Mosque

Ramadan Tent 1999 at the Jumeirah Mosque


By 2004, the Iftar Events moved to our current home, an old wind tower house in the Al Fahidi Historic District of Dubai.

IfTar Event SMCCU Wind Tower House 2004

Iftar Event SMCCU Wind Tower House 2004

Throughout the years, visitor and residents, dignitaries, business groups  and social clubs have joined the 1000’s of individuals who have participated in these cultural and spiritual events.

The evening begins with the breaking of the fast, consisting of dates, water and  Arabic coffee,  followed by evening prayers performed in view of the guests. After prayers are concluded, guests are invited to enjoy the local Emirati dishes prepared such as Machboos, Saloona, Thareed, Margoogah, and salad.  After the meal, guests take a short walk through the district to the Diwan Mosque. Inside, the group learns about the house of worship, prayer, and why Ramadan is such a special month for worships. Event goers then return to the wind tower house where dessert is served, and an open Q & A discussion is run by young volunteers. It’s an opportunity for the guests to get to know local Emiratis, and hear their points of view on the city, the religion, growing up during the development of Dubai, and current affairs. The volunteers  will admit that they’re not experts on the subjects but are willing to share their views to give visitors a better insight into local culture traditions and religion.

This year the SMCCU is continuing its tradition of hosting guests in the Al Fahidi Historic District of Dubai for Iftar. Special guests in 2015  included the Consul General of Bulgaria, Bogdan Kolarov, guests of the British Embassy, Chancellor of Environmental Sciences at American University of Sharjah Bjorn Kjerfve,  Hong Kong celebrity Dodo Cheng, Mr David Chaplin, First Secretary at the Embassy of Australia, Ms Emma Buckingham,  Vice-Consul of Australia, Ms Kim Debenham, Deputy Head of Mission of the Embassy of Australia.

The SMCCU’s mission is to promote cultural understanding and provide a venue where visitors and residents can come together in an informal open atmosphere and get to know a little more about the Emirates through the eyes of an Emirati.

To find out more, visit our website at http://www.cultures.ae.



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SMCCU’s Guide to Ramadan 2015

The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) has been at the forefront in promoting an authentic Jumeirah Mosque Eidunderstanding of the UAE and the region’s traditions and practices. The wealth of information that can be accessed here is to ensure that both Emiratis and expatriates are aware of and understand these traditions and practices, and the role they play in distinguishing the culture of the region.

A number of expatriates often express discomfort at having to conform to the guidelines that are in place for Ramadan. The UAE is a very tolerant country. Even if you experience challenges in understanding the culture, it is courteous and wise to observe and follow the laws that are in place. Keep in mind that you are in a Muslim country.

As the Holy month of Ramadan approaches, we have received numerous requests to remind our audience of what the Holy month of Ramadan means to Muslims, the ‘dos and don’ts’ and the activities that they can expect to see throughout this time.

Below are some guidelines that you can use to learn more about Ramadan.

The Holy Month of Ramadan

The Holy month of Ramadan begins on June 19 this year. While expatriates who have been living in the UAE or the region for a few
years have some insight into the significance of the month, there are some who are new to the region, and may not understand, or have their own questions about Ramadan, despite what they have been told.

Ramadan, or the Month of Fasting is the fourth of the five pillars of Islam. It is regarded as the holiest month in the Islam calendar because Muslims believe that the Qur’an (Koran) was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) during the month of Ramadan on the night of Laylat al Qadr (Laylat ul Qadr), one of the last ten nights of Ramadan. Ramadan ends on with the festival of Eid-ul Fitr – Day of celebration and gratitude.

A superficial observation that some persons tend to commonly share with those who do not know much about the holy month is that it is mainly a time of ‘not eating and drinking (fasting)’. However, there are many additional significant activities that encourage spiritual growth and allow for deeper reasons for what is done, when it is done and how it is done


The act of fasting during the daylight hours is an essential spiritual act. The objective is to obtain God Consciousness. For Muslims, unnamed
abstaining from food and drink creates a deeper gratitude for these vital gifts without which we cannot survive but often take for granted. It is also a good reminder to all to not be wasteful. The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), in admonishing us about fasting said, “… one third of your stomach is for food, one third for drink, and leave one third empty so it can do its work.” Fasting encourages us to exercise greater self-control, patience, perseverance and discipline.

Even though all Muslims are encouraged to fast daily, there are a few exceptions that you should keep in mind. Persons who are exempted from fasting include those who are travelling long distances, the elderly, the insane, women who are menstruating, pregnant women, nursing women, the sick, and children under the age of 12.


Throughout the year, there may be instances in which our focus on spiritual growth may be minimised as a result of distractions. The Holy Month of Ramadan creates mindfulness of our shortcomings, as through reflection, we are able to strengthen the areas in which our faith may have weakened.

Between sunrise and sundown, sexual relations are forbidden. This is done in order to remind, and in some instances teach couples to appreciate and value each other more.

The holy book is also read daily and there is an increase in our prayers, particularly at night. We are more aware of how we behave and the manner in which we interact with each other. This means that undesirable behaviours such as being arrogant, vain, disrespectful or unkind are strictly forbidden. Gossiping and back stabbing are also forbidden during the process of fasting.

Zakat & Charity

Ramadan is a time in which a lot of emphasis is placed on charitable works. Special focus is given to helping those who are in need and looking after the poor.

Zakat Al Fitr is given at this time before the Eid prayer and equals 20AED per fasting person, as a token of thankfulness to God for having enabled him to observe fasts. Its purpose is to purify those who fast from any indecent act or speech and to help the poor and needy. It should not to be confused with Zakat, which is one of the five pillars of Islam, an obligation for every Muslim that fits the criteria. It is a mandatory way of giving money with the purpose of redistributing wealth. Each Muslim is expected to give 2.5 per cent of the value of his capital assets. This is then distributed by various Islamic organizations to those who are less fortunate.

Fellowship, Family & Iftar   

During Ramadan, there is much social interaction between friends and family. Muslims are encouraged to visit friends and in Iftar foodparticular, those with whom contact has faded.

Those of you, who have experienced Ramadan in the UAE, can confirm that during the evening hours, just before Iftar, there is an overwhelming amount of traffic on the road. This is usually a result of persons trying to get to specific locations for Iftar. Iftar is the evening meal after sunset to break the daily fast during Ramadan.

Key things to remember

  • Respect the dress code – dress modestly. Both men and women should cover their shoulders and ensure that the length of their clothing is at about the knee line.
  • Be courteous – Do not eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public or in the presence of those who are fasting. Be discreet with your eating and drinking. Many companies provide private rooms for those who are not fasting – use those areas to eat. Be especially discreet if you are in your car or in public areas.
  • Be Responsible – Do not play loud music, curse or behave in a manner that is considered disrespectful to others. Ramadan is a time of heightened spirituality. Be mindful of the needs of others.
  • Learn to greet others – Learn the appropriate way to greet others in Arabic during Ramadan and practice saying it to those you meet. ‘Ramadan Kareem’ or ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ is a popular greeting said at the start of Ramadan. ‘Kareem’ means ‘generous’ and ‘Mubarak’ means ‘blessings.’ Other greetings include ‘Mubarak Alaikum Alshaher’ to which the response may be ‘Allah Yebarek Feek’.
  • Be Aware – The timing of business hours and bus routes change during Ramadan. Many shops and government agencies will post Ramadan timing, so be sure to check before you venture out. Peak hours have slight variations at this time too. Avoid going out on the road during the hours leading up to Iftar. Also of note, most companies are legally required to reduce working hours for all employees (Muslim and Non-Muslim).
  • Participate – Many hotels and restaurants have special Iftar deals but join Muslims for an authentic Iftar. Accept invitations from a Muslim work colleague or friend at his home for Iftar. You can also join a tent or a masjid Iftar feeding the poor, by handing out food and food items. Try an Iftar at SMCCU. We have special (bespoke) Iftar packages where you can enjoy authentic Emirati cuisine while learning more about Ramadan.


At SMCCU our goal is to empower everyone with the information that is needed in order to facilitate a better understanding of the UAE and the region. We are happy to answer any questions that you may have; so don’t be afraid to ask. Our doors are open to you and in the process of sharing; we hope to open your minds to who we are as a people, a country and a region.

In conclusion, the Holy month of Ramadan is a great time for us to grow spiritually, to celebrate the joys of sharing and to show appreciation for all the gifts that we are fortunate to have. Through an overall feeling of thoughtfulness and reflection, we are able to reconnect with Allah who reminds us of the importance of worship and fellowship.

To learn more about our Iftar packages, click here.

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Two Common Myths: Hot Drinks & Black Clothing Make You Hotter

What bedouins and desert dwellers have known for centuries? Hot drinks cool you down, and black fabric protects us from the sun.Emirati Women  Still skeptical?  At the SMCCU, we strive to bust the common myths about the region.  With the help of pure science, what we have known from our own experience and traditions is unequivocally proven.  Take, for instance, the traditional drink of Emiratis and the GCC, Gahawa Arabia.  The Guardian writes, “Imbibing hot liquid can be cooling and warming. If you’re hot, it may warm you up a little, but when it reaches thermosensors in the oesophagus and stomach, these react as though the entire body is as hot as the drink, and turn up the sweat flow so much that, provided your clothing allows it to evaporate, you’ll end up cooler than when you started. Or, at least, this was deemed the most likely explanation for this effect in a study by Anthony Bain at the University of Ottawa’s Thermal bedouin ManErgonomics Laboratory.”

What about black robes in the desert?  This has been far more intriguing to the scientist who study human nature. There have been several published articles about why black is just as good if not better than white for the desert dweller.  Add the UV blocking effect that black has and white does not, and you can draw your own conclusions as we have.  (refer to the linked articles below).  Still not convinced?  Then why not visit the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding and listen to our well-informed staff about the Emirati lifestyle and traditional customs that have survived our growth into a modern metropolis.  From daily tours and cultural meals, to the Iftar Dinner Events that will being in June 20th during Ramadan, guest are sure to leave with at least a better understanding of local culture through our “Open doors. Open minds.” programs.






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Astronomy Enthusiasts Enjoy a Free Lecture with Dubai Astronomy Group & SMCCU

Yesterday Astronomy enthusiasts attended a free lecture at the Jumeirah Majlis sponsored by SMCCU.  Dubai Astronomy Group’s founder Hassan Al Hariri, delivered an interesting lecture about how knowledge of the stars and planets and their position in the sky helped the Arabs navigate in the open deserts and by sea.  Mr. Al Hariri also brought with him an astrolabe, which was used for direction and calculating distances. Not only was the knowledge of the stars an important tool for navigation, it also was used to calculate and create the first calendars. The SMCCU is keen to provide opportunities for people to come together and learn more about the heritage and history in the region.

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