The skyline shimmers with luxury hotels, the car showrooms along Sheikh Zayed Road are doing a roaring trade in Range Rovers and Porsches, but all of this sits comfortably with Dubai’s Islamic traditions.
The Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer from some 180 mosques is a firm reminder that in heart and soul the emirate is Islamic. Most Emiratis are Sunni Muslims, and many belong to the strict Wahhabi sect (or more politely, muwahidin), though generally they are relatively tolerant and relaxed, provided expats – which comprise a high proportion of Dubai’s one million population – observe the country’s culture and traditions.
This means covering up away from the pool or beach, enjoying alcohol only in hotels and licensed bars such as at golf clubs, never giving offence by showing the soles of the feet or accepting an offering with the left hand, and refraining from smoking, eating and drinking in public during the Holy Month of Ramadan. Also, remember it is impolite to photograph people without permission. Although many might dress like their visitors from abroad for business meetings, the Arab male’s traditional dress is an ankle length dishdasha, which is loose fitting to cope with the heat. This is worn with a skull cap, the gahfia, covered by the gutra, a long cloth of white cotton.
Women generally wear the kandoura, a long-sleeved, full length dress, often embroidered with traditional designs, worn over trousers. When they leave home, they slip a black cover (abaya) over the kandoura and tuck their hair under a scarf (shaela).
Arabic is the official language, but English is widely spoken and the language of business.
You may be lucky enough to see traditional dances like the fast- paced liwa or the Bedouin ayyalah performed particularly during any of Dubai’s festivals. Most Bedouin crafts are practical as well as beautiful: Pots like the birnah and hibb are designed to keep milk cool, while the mehaffa, or hand fan, does the same for you. The barjeel, a windtower and attractive architectural element, directs the smallest breeze into the house – it’s a surprisingly effective form of air conditioning.
To request further information about Dubai, contact the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing at 020 7839 0580 or visit www.dubaitourism.ae.
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