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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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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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Top 10 Phrases Heard in Ramadan


If you are visiting the United Arab Emirates this month, you will probably notice there is something different going on. Well, it happens to be the month of Ramadan! There are some common words and phrases in Arabic that are often used during this month that you might hear, so we made this mini glossary to explain their meanings.

Ramadan Kareem: You probably heard this being said a lot this month. It literally means, “Ramadan is generous”. The Holy month of Ramadan is the ninth month of the Lunar Calendar, which Muslims follow. It is the month in which the Quran was revealed to Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) and in which Muslims are ordered to fast from dawn to dusk. It is a month of spirituality and reflection. During the month Muslims increase their prayers, read more Quran, guard their actions, gaze, and speech and improve their mannerisms. They also tend to do more acts of kindness and give out more charity and hence Ramadan is known to be the month of giving and generosity.

Ramadan Kareem

 

Iftar: Literally means “break fast”. It is the meal that Muslims eat at the Sunset prayer, which breaks their fast during the month of Ramadan, marking the end of the day of fasting.

Suhur: Is derived from the Arabic word Sahar which is the later part of the night. It is the pre-dawn meal consumed early in the morning by Muslims before fasting during the month of Ramadan. The suhur meal is eaten before the Fajr (dawn) prayer, which is an hour before sunrise.

Alsalam Alaykom: Is an Arabic greeting, which translates to “peace be upon you.” It is a greeting that predates Islam and was very common in Arabia. When you meet someone for the first time you greet them by saying “Alsalam Alaykom” offering them peace, extending friendship and hospitality. It is not related to a specific religion and can be said by anyone.

Maghreb: Means sunset and usually refers to the sunset prayer. In Ramadan this is the time in which Muslims break their fast, ending their day of fasting.

Fajr: Meaning dawn, which is an hour before sunrise, and also refers to the dawn prayer. This is the time in Ramadan which marks the beginning of the fasting day.

Allahu Akbar: Means God is the greatest. Allah is the Arabic word for God, which is similar to the word in Hebrew Elohim and in biblical Aramaic Ellah. This is the first phrase in the call for prayer.

Bism’ellah / Bism’ellah el Rahman el Rahim: Translates to “In the name of God / In the name of God the most merciful the most compassionate.” It is a phrase that Muslims say in the beginning of any daily activity that they do, before performing the Wudu, the abolition (washing ritual prior to praying), before reading any chapters of the Quran, before eating any meal, before traveling on any mode of transportation…etc

Alhamdu’llilah / Alhamdulillah Rab el Alameen: Thank God/ Thank God, Lord of the Universe is what this phrase means. Muslims usually say it at the end of a meal to express gratitude of the blessing they had. It is also said when asked about one’s wellbeing, “how are you” keif halak (m) or keif halek (f).

Eid Mubarak: Eid means festivity and Mubarak means blessed. Together it means blessed festivity, which is usually said as a greeting to mark the end of the month of Ramadan and the 3-day celebration that follows. It is also used to rejoice the end of the Pilgrimage season (Hajj) which ends with a 3-day celebration as well.

eid-fitr-mubarak-cards

We at SMCCU wish you a blessed and peaceful month. We hope you join us to one of our Iftars throughout the month of Ramadan and wish you and your families a Happy and blessed Eid ahead.

Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding offers Arabic courses for week days or weekends. Our next classes are scheduled to begin in July 2016.
Click here for more information

 

 

 

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The Fuala


Al Fuala, is a beautiful Emirati habit that has been abandoned by some Emirati.  It consists of coffee, tea, a simple spread of traditional dishes and an assortment of fruits. The Fuala represent the authentic generosity of greeting family, neighbours and guests. It is also an incentive for them to regularly communicate and exchange visits in a family atmosphere.

 

The term “Fuala”, derives from the Arabic word “good omen” and this is exactly what it represents, as local traditional dishes, such as Aseed (porridge), Khabeesah (pumpkin mash), Balalit (Emirati pancakes), Lugaymat (dumplings served with date syrup), fruits among others are offered to guests whether they are friends, neighbours, or just merely any passersby. It is usually served before noon or in the  afternoon.

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Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) strives to remove barriers and build cross-cultural understanding by raising awareness of the local culture, customs and religion. In its aim to preserve the traditional costumes and traditions of the United Arab Emirates, it has brought this Emirati tradition of serving Fuala back to life by adding it to its various activities and programs. It wishes to offer all its visitors, tourists, expats, diplomatic missions and corporations this unique cultural experience.

 

On Thursday afternoon, May 19th 2016, SMCCU launched its first Fuala by inviting some guests to share this genuine and traditional experience in a restored home in Al Fahdi historical district. The guests were greeted with Arabic coffee and dates while they were seated in the courtyard and were entertained by a group of Emirati young men who performed the traditional Zafra dance. Mr. Abdullah Al Serkal, SMCCU’s Founder and Director welcomed the guests and explained the tradition of the Foala and its significance to Emirati families. The guests were invited to savor the local food and fruits and encouraged to ask any questions. Guests had the opportunity to inquire about the local men and women’s dress, some even tried them on while their photos were taken, while others inquired about various local habits.

 

 

The Fuala program is now added to SMCCU’s various activities, offering its visitors another opportunity to experience genuine Emirati hospitality in a friendly atmosphere. It includes a talk and visit in the Diwan Mosque followed by a relaxing discussion in SMCCU’s courtyard. It runs every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday form 4:30 to 6:00 pm and prior reservations are essential.

 

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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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SMCCU’s 4th Annual Treasures of the UAE Art Competition Judging


The Emirates Fine Arts Society members have been busy this week reviewing the more than 550 pieces of artwork received from 53 schools across the UAE.  IMG_5821This year we had entries from schools in Dubai as well as Abu Dhabi, Sharjah. Al Ain and Fujairah.  Students were asked to depict their favorite historic site, and submit their works for a change to win a place in our 2016 Treasures of the UAE Art Competition Calendar.  The calendar will feature 24 winners whose works will make up the 12 Gregorian and 12 Hijri months of the this Arabic/English calendar.  This year our sponsor, Yas Water World, Nestle, and Explorer have generously provided their support through prizes worth up to 1000AED for the winners.  Our Judges, Khalil Abdul Wahid, Curator of the 30th Annual exhibition of Emirates fine Arts Society 2012 at Sharjah Art Museum and Visual Arts Manager at  The Culture and Arts Authority, Muna AbdulQader AlAli, Member of the Emirates Fine Arts Society and Nasir A. Nasralla, Member of the Emirates Fine Arts Society generously donated their time to choosing our winners.  All winners and their families will be honored at the SMCCU’s National Day Celebrations in the Al Fahidi Historic District of Dubai on December 2nd,2015.    We’ve put together a Participants book, which can be viewed below.

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