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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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Kharareef Writing Contest Opens for Submissions February 19th

The SMCCU has partnered with ZUKharareef Story Telling Club and Sheikha AlYazia bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan’s ZOWD Foundation for the First Annual New Fairytales & Fables from the UAE Writing Competition. Last November, the contest idea won in the heritage category of the ZU Innovation Awards, and is the brainchild of ZUKharareef  Club President Noor Abdul Hamaid.  The SMCCU  has provided its expertise to the implementation strategy of the contest, and  details of the competition  and school  registration can be found on our website at www.cultures.ae/index.php/writing-contest . The contest is  meant to celebrate the art of storytelling within the Emirati local traditions and our participation and support in this cultural literacy project and reading initiative are part  The Mohammed bin Rashid Global Initiatives, and the Year of Reading Project.

The concept of the contest is meant to connect our educational communities, celebrate Emirati heritage and culture, and contribute to HH Sheikh Mohammed’s efforts to encourage reading and writing in Arabic.  Students will be asked to compose their own “fairytales and fables” less than 500 words, in Arabic or English, that reflect the 40 themes chosen by the contest organizers.  These themes will focus on Emirati values and character traits, encourage  these values and/ or discourage values and behaviors inconsistent with Emirati culture. The competition will be held for grades 7-12 with groupings in English for grades 7-9 and 10-12 and the same categories will apply in Arabic.    Schools are required to host an internal competition and we encourage them to include all their grades in that process. Topics and themes will be announced on  February 19th, 2016, the opening day of the contest and submission deadline is March 19th, 2016 which coincides with World Story Telling Day 2016.

Winners will have their story illustrated and published in a short story book.

From the story Mile, a collection of short stories written by students at Zayed University

“Aiisha and the Gaf Tree”, a collection of short stories written by students at Zayed University



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Spirit of the Union 44th National Day Treasures of the UAE 2015 Art Competition Awards

In honor of the Spirit of the Union 44th National Day Celebration, the SMCCU honors the winners of the its 4th Annual Treasures of the UAE Art Competition.  Winners and their families attended a private viewing of the artwork that will be displayed in the SMCCU during the month of December 2015.  The awards ceremony followed and included a cultural program and lunch, a tour of the Al Fahidi historic district and Diwan Mosque, and awarding of prizes.  The winners took away a package of prizes worth 1000AED each, and their artwork is now featured in the 2016 Treasures of the UAE Calendar available at the SMCCU.  Each month two winners will be featured in the Hijri-Gregorian calendar.

This year more than 550 students entered the competition from 53 schools across the UAE.  Managing Director, Nasif Kayed hosted the event along with volunteers from the SMCCU.  “Our aim is to spotlight the many historic sites and monuments across the UAE in an effort to bring about knowledge and appreciation of  our rich culture and history.  It is also an opportunity for students to express their creative talents.”, said Mr. Kayed.

The Emirates Fine Arts Society once again graciously donated their time in choosing our winning artists, and Yas Water World, Nestle and Explorer generously sponsored the competition this year.

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43 National Day 3rd Annual Treasures of the UAE Art Competition Awards

In the celebration of this year’s UAE 43nd  National Day, the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) were pleased to host an Award Ceremony on Tuesday 2nd December to honour the 24 winning student artists of the 2014 “Treasures of the UAE “ Art Competition. The Ceremony included prize giving in partnership with Wild Wadi, Pepsico and Nestle, a private Cultural Lunch and a visit to the Diwan Mosque in Al Fahidi Historic District.

24 winners were selected by prominent regional artists from the Emirates Fine Arts Society.  In total, 422 pieces of artwork were submitted by students from 62 schools across the UAE capturing the essence of the UAE’s famous historical sites and landmarks.

All winning artwork is displayed in a bespoke Exhibition at the SMCCU Heritage House in the Al Fahidi Historic District of Dubai open to members of the public until Sunday 4th January 2015.

All submitted artwork may be viewed in an exclusive online gallery published on the SMCCU website; http://www.cultures.ae/index.php/art-competition

Nasif Kayed Managing Director of the SMCCU commented: “UAE’s historic monuments and landscapes stand here to remind us of our roots, traditions and the UAE’s great history. This initiative strives to uncover a new interpretation of these historical landmarks from the next generation residing in the UAE, encouraging creativity combined with historic knowledge.”

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“Treasures of the UAE” Art Competition 2014 Judging Begins

The SMCCU has received more than 400 works of art from 62 schools for its’ Third Annual Treasures of the UAE Art Competition.  We received entries from all Emirates this year from students age 8 to 18.   The aim is to get the youth  interested in learning more about  the UAE’s historic sites and to celebrate the diverse artistic talents of students across the country.  The Emirates Fine Arts Society is busy reviewing all entries and winners are scheduled to be announce on November 15th.  The Winners will have their artwork featured in our 2015 Heritage Calendar as well as having their artwork displayed in our windtower house during the month of December.  All winners will also be honored on our National Day Celebrations December 2nd, with an awards ceremony and cultural event.  This year’s Sponsors include Wild Wadi Waterpark, Pepsico and Nestle.  The 2014 Participant’s Booklet is currently published here.

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Treasures of the UAE 2013 Calendars

In honor of the winners of the 2012 ‘Treasures of the UAE’ student Art Competition, the SMCCU proudly announces the 2013 Calendars featuring the winning artists have arrived! After our initial printing was so well received, we are pleased to provide these calendars to the public.  Schools may also pick up their complimentary copies as well.  With over 940 artists participating in the contest, our team of judges had difficult time choosing the winners.  Therefore, we have decided to also honor all participants in their own “book”  available for viewing and downloading  at Artist’s Book . Winners are also featured on our website and  their own Winner’s Book .  Each month, the winning calendar page with be featured on our website, so check back monthly to view our young artist’s work, or drop by the centre and pick up a calendar of your own for only 10aed.  

Calendar Example

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Join the 2012 Student Art Competition!

Treasures of the UAE

The SMCCU would like to invite all budding young artists aged 7 to 18

to participate in our  ‘Treasures of the UAE’ art competition and submit a piece of artwork that captures the essence of one of the UAE’s famous historical sites or landmarks*.

Entrants are invited to find their own favourite historical landmark or site and

let their creativity run wild!

24 winners will be selected by celebrated young Emirati artists.

Winners will have their artwork printed in a special edition  ‘Treasures of the UAE Calendar’ and they will be invited to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding for an honorary celebration on  2nd December 2012. All winners will have their artwork displayed in a ‘Treasures of the UAE exhibition’ at our traditional heritage house in the historic Bastakiya area of Dubai from 2nd December 2012 to 2nd January 2013.

Entry into the competition must be arranged through your School or College.

The 24 winners will take home the fantastic prize of AED 1,000.

In addition to this, all winners will receive a voucher from the SMCCU for a complimentary Cultural Lunch for a family of 5.

Entry Requirements

• The School or College must have completed the accompanying Registration Form to confirm their participation in the event and have submitted this online by 5th November. Only one Registration Form per School or College is required regardless of the number of students entering the competition. If the entry is received after this date it will not be submitted to the judges.

• All pieces of work are to be submitted and delivered to the SMCCU office by the school by 15th November and must be clearly labelled with artists name, school and age including school contact name and mobile on the reverse.

• Winners will be notified by email at the email address provided by the school on the registration form by
22nd November.

• Artwork may be any size in 2D format such as paper or canvas using any paint, charcoal, pencil or similar medium.

• The Exhibition will run from 2nd December 2012 to 2nd January 2013 and the winning artwork will be displayed on public view during this time.

• All artwork submitted may be collected from the SMCCU after the Exhibition from 3rd January 2013. The SMCCU will not accept liability for loss or damage to any work submitted.

• The SMCCU reserves the right to use images of the winning artwork for their own purposes including but not limited to publication in their marketing materials, presentations, website and other social media sites.

*Heritage Sites and Landmarks; Examples include: Jumeirah Mosque, Bastakiya, … no new landmarks.  Please visit our website for all the details and registration form at www.cultures.ae/artcompetition.php



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