Category Archives: culture

Emirati Hospitality


Dubai and hospitality are synonymous. April is the month for the Arabian Travel Market; an annual exhibition to highlight why tourists should come visit Dubai throughout the year. Yet above all of the various entries of resorts, tour providers, and world class travel providers, is the concept they will spout, but not describe. The inherent generosity behind the holy privilege of hospitality for the Emirati.

For thousands of years, people have arrived by boat to the Dubai Creek seeking trade, shelter from cyclones and to repair their dhows (wooden boats). From the south-west they also came by desert, connecting the cities in Yemen and Oman to the oases of Al Ain, the port city of Dubai, the oases of Liwa and up to our neighbours in Bahrain, Qatar and The Nejd (eastern Saudi Arabia). To play host even unexpectedly, is uniquely seen as a privilege to Muslims and thus the people of Dubai, not always the descriptor people would use when finding an unannounced guest. In Islam it is ruled that to feed or shelter a guest is equal to offering the same for God. “…then Allah will say, oh son of Adam, I was needed food but you did not feed me. Son of Adam responded, Oh Allah how could I feed You, You are lord of the worlds? Did not you know my servant was hungry but you did not feed him. If you had, you would have found me & benefit from me.” Yet aside from religious adherence, within the local culture, playing host became a source of interest, adding variety to the average days and even a friendly competition in who is most generous. The resources may have changed, but the intention of the Dubai host has remained the same; to leave the guests feeling welcomed, comforted and pleased beyond measure wanting to return.

It all starts with the kind, calm welcome and pleasing smile, urging the expected and unexpected guest to enter. Upon sitting down in a house, office or majlis it is an absolute expectation to serve steaming hot Qahwa, (Arabic Coffee) in just two to three sips at a time, followed by a simple, sweet date. One cup gives you the time to ask a question or seek a signature, while still having an exchange of hospitality. Or the guest may enjoy cup after cup to their hearts content, with each refill giving blessings toward the host from Allah, and perhaps stay on for a meal or longer. The serving pot for the coffee; called a della, is a favourite symbol of hospitality in the Emirates. The wide bottom, narrowing pot with an elegant dome topped by a baluster and the grand swoop of the handle, simply evokes this tool for welcome is for ceremony and not a mere vessel for boiling a drink. Held in the left hand, and a pile of small round cups in the right, the coffee server always stands, patient & ready with complete dedication to play server and break from less interesting duties as they listen in on the conversation of this new person and the host.

A meal may follow the coffee. The hosts will provide as much food as possible, to ensure some dishes would be pleasing to the guests taste. Some houses may urge the guest to eat on their own and not be shy, while most host will remain, eating bit by bit so as to share the meal and urge the guest on, yet making the impression this food is the guests. Meals are followed with teas and bukhoor (incense). Should the guest be needing lodging, an Arabic majlis is transformed easily into wall to wall bedding and yet is still outside of the private space of the family house. Female guests may also be welcomed into a bedroom within the family quarters. In either setting, good manners of Arabia and in Islam dictate up to three nights is a welcome blessing. Longer than three and you may end up putting strain on your host’s finances, time or space.

Hospitality of strangers is done less so in these modern years, where there is also much to care about in regards to protection and safety. In years past it was more sacrosanct and rarely abused. However, until now there are still those families, known to the poor or current Bedouin where they know they will be welcomed as a guest, even if their goal is more to fill their stomachs. They will be sent on their way only after their health has been checked, clothes laundered with likely a few surprise donations tucked in the pockets of some new items, hidden amongst the rest; no honour questioned or opportunity for shame. In Al Ain, hospitals even know which families will take on a discharged patient, alone, away from their family needing someone to look after them for a while. It is the honour of the families of Bedouin heritage especially who do so, returning a debt to Hoba (Karma) for hospitality received in the past and desired in the future.

The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding is participating in the Arabian Travel Market at the Dubai World Trade Centre where we will be reminding others in the travel industry that we are the premier entity for tourists and expatriates to experience and understand this unique Emirati hospitality. Come visit us there April 22-25.

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Eid Al Adha


It is Eid again, a time to celebrate! Eid means festivity or celebration in Arabic. Eid Al Adha means the Festival of the Sacrifice. It is an Islamic festivity observed by Muslims around the world, which commemorates the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim/Abraham (Peace Be Upon Him) to follow God’s command to sacrifice his son. Eid Al-Adha also marks the end of the Hajj which means pilgrimage.

Hajj is Muslims annual pilgrimage to the Holy city of Mecca, and the fifth pillar of Islam. All Muslims who are physically and financially able have to perform this pillar at least once in their lifetime. Millions of Muslims from different parts of the world travel to the Islam’s Holiest city of Mecca to visit the Kaa’ba. The Kaa’ba is the first house of worship ever built by the first mankind, Prophet Adam (PBUH), which was rebuilt by Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) and his son.

2245464943_8b056de8d2_bThe Hajj is a ritual that commemorates the trials and tribulations of Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) and his family, during which pilgrims follow their footsteps. It is perceived as a journey of the body, mind and soul. A time for spiritual connection, asking for forgiveness, a reflection of one’s life and a remembrance of mortality and the Day of Judgment. Hajj takes place during the month of Dhul Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic Lunar Calendar. It officially starts on the 8th of Dhul Hijjah and lasts for five days.

During Hajj all Muslims are equal and united regardless of colour, ethnicity, gender, language or status. This is reflected by the pilgrim’s dress, which is aimed to show equality and modesty. Men wear two pieces of unstitched white cloth, while women wear simple long and loose garments covering their body showing only their face and hands, therefore not reflecting any wealth.

During the first day of Eid Al Adha Festivities, Muslims dress in new clothes and go to the Mosque for the congregational Eid prayer in the morning. Afterwards they go to the slaughterhouse where the sacrifice is made to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim’s (PBUH) example of obedience. The meat of the slaughtered sheep is divided into three, a third for the poor, a third to friends and neighbours and a third for the family’s consumption. The rest of the day is spent visiting family, friends and neighbours, gathering to share meals and gifts. The three days of Eid are a time of celebration, generosity and joy.

It is a courtesy to greet your Muslim friend or neighbour by saying Eid Mubarak, which means Blessed Eid.

To understand more about Islam’s 5 pillars you can join our guided visit to the Jumeirah Mosque during the Eid or anytime throughout the year.
jumeirah-mosque

 

 

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Emirati Machboos Recipe


Machboos is one of the most popular Emirati dishes.  It consists of rice and can be made with chicken, lamb, or seafood. We serve it daily in our cultural meals. Many of our guests enjoyed it and requested the recipe, which we are happy to share with you. Recipes can vary from one household to another, as each one adds their personal touch to it, so this is our version.

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INGREDIENTS

  • I Kg chicken, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 Kg white basmati rice
  • 2 onions chopped
  • 2 fresh tomatoes chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 2 table spoons chopped coriander
  • 1 potatoe chopped into square pieces
  • 2 14cups water

spices:

  • 1 tablespoon bezar (mixed spice)*
  • sea salt (as desired)
  • 1 whole dried lime (pierced a few times with a skewer. Called loomi)
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 3-4 tablespoons Ghee
  • 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cumin
  • 2 tablespoons raisins
  • 4 whole cardamom pods, bruised
  • 2 tsp saffron, soaked in lemon juice

DIRECTIONS

  1. Rinse the chicken and rub it with sea salt and bezar*, then brown it gently on both sides with some ghee.
  2. Transfer to a pot, add some ghee, fry the garlic, tomato, loomi, cinnamon, cardamom and coriander.
  3. Add the potatoes, cover and simmer in low heat for 15 minutes..
  4. Remove chicken pieces from the pot.
  5. Rinse the white Basmati rice until the water runs clear.
  6. Add rice to the pot and stir gently, then set the chicken on top of the rice.
  7. Add the water until it covers the chicken and bring to a boil.
  8. Sprinkle the saffron mix, cover the pot and reduce heat to low for 15 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile fry slices of onion in the remaining ghee until soft and browned, remove from heat and add raisins to the onions.
  10. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot on a platter with the onion/raisin mixture as garnish on top of the rice. You can also add boiled eggs for decoration.

And bil afia, which means in good health, the Arabic way of saying bon appetite.

Follow our blog for other recipes coming up soon. We previously shared the recipe for the Ligamat.

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The Muslim Call to Prayer and Its Meaning


The call for prayer, in Arabic called Adhan, is that melodic chant you often heard coming from the mosque, while walking down the street in an Islamic country, in the mall in the UAE or in parts of a movie. Have you ever wondered what it means? The phrases used in the call for prayer are the same since the time of Prophet Mohammed (Peace be Upon Him), 1400 years ago. It is heard five times a day, seven days a week and throughout the whole year. Here is what it means:

Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akabar, Allahu Akbar: God is the greatest, God is the greatest, God is the greatest, God is the greatest.

Allah is the Arabic word for God. ” Throughout their day and in prayer especially, Muslims use this term to remind themselves that God is greater than anything and everything. The creator is beyond time, direction and description. This phrase is not only used in worship, it is used to express appreciation, admiration, amazement, astonishment, fear or surprise. Unfortunately, lately it has been misused and abused. Princess Ameera Al-Taweel explains it beautifully in this video.

 

Ashhad an la illaha illa Allah, Ashhad an la illaha illa Allah: I testify that there is no God except God, I testify that there is no God except God. Muslims believe that there is only God and He is the Almighty, the Creator of everything and is the only one worthy of worship.

Ashhadu an Mohammad rasul Allah, Ashhadu an Mohammad rasul Allah: I testify that Mohammad is the messenger of God, I testify that Mohammed is the messenger of God. Muslims believe that God sent several messengers throughout time, with the same message for all mankind and Prophet Mohammed (Peace be Upon Him) is the last of these messengers. Hence, Muslims believe in all the prophets and messengers that preceded Prophet Mohammed, starting with Prophet Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, etc. (Peace Be Upon them All). Muslims also believe in all the holy revelations and scriptures that were sent with them, such as Prophet Abraham’s scriptures, the Zabur of Prophet David, the original Torah of Prophet Moses and the original Gospel of Prophet Jesus.

Haya alla el salah, Haya alla el salah: Welcome to prayer, welcome to prayer. The call for prayer is an invitation for Muslims to perform their prayer, spiritually connect with the Creator and disconnect from any worldly matters. It is a chance to thank God for his blessing, ask for forgiveness for any wrong doing and seek guidance throughout the day. Prayer is the moral compass for Muslims. If performed correctly and sincerely, it promotes God consciousness within them and makes them reflect on their actions from one prayer to the next and it also teaches discipline.

Haya alla el falah, haya alla el falah: Welcome to success, welcome to success. Success here is not measured by material gains or possessions but by good actions, which the prayer helps pursue.

La illaha illa Allah: There is no God worthy of worship except God

Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar: God is the greatest, God is the greatest.

In the Dawn prayer a phrase is added after “welcome to success”, which is “Paryer is better than sleep, prayer is better than sleep”. As the dawn prayer is usually an hour before sunrise, this phrase is a reminder to worshippers that prayer should be a priority over comfort or anything else.

 

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