Visitors to Dubai may be in for a bit of a culture shock. As well as meeting residents from every corner of the earth, you will mingle with traditionally dressed Gulf Arabs in their dishdashas and abayas. There is also the sound of the mosques at prayer time, Arabic chatter in coffee shops, the sweet smell of Arabian shisha (hubbly bubbly pipes), the beautiful intricate writing… it is all part of everyday Dubai culture.
Emirati life is very much geared around families, with marriage and children being the bedrock of society. Hospitality plays a key role in Dubai culture, especially to strangers or newcomers, although older and more traditional Dubai citizens may be more reserved. Do not be surprised if you are invited to join an Emirati family for refreshment, and when carpet or jewellery shopping in particular, your tea will arrive almost before you do. It is polite to accept Dubai tradition like this graciously.
Islam is inextricably intertwined with the very fabric of UAE society. Muslims see the Qur’an literally as the word of God, and it issues very specific moral guidelines, dealing with all issues of daily living. For this reason, the book itself is strongly revered, and must be respectfully treated. Although the most open of Arab societies in its culture, the Muslim tradition in Dubai is no different. Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims, is marked by prayer, fasting and charity. As an Islamic country, Dubai culture is no different and many restaurants and cafes close during daylight hours. Non-Muslims should not eat, drink or smoke in public, but do so only in private or at specially closed off hotel restaurants.
Dubai is a modern city that welcomes visitors from around the world. However, as it is also a Muslim city, there are certain factors to take into consideration in terms of dress code and behaviour. Religion plays a significant role in the culture of Dubai. Mosques can be found throughout the city and at sunset the call to prayer can be heard across the rooftops. It is possible for non-Muslim tourists to visit certain mosques in Dubai; perhaps the most impressive is the Jumeirah Mosque, tours of which can be booked through the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Ramadan is a popular time of year to visit Dubai; although all residents and visitors must refrain from eating or drinking in public in daylight hours, it is a wonderful time to experience the local culture and strong religious heritage of the city. Non-Muslims may eat and drink in designated areas, and many hotels and shopping malls will have various outlets that remain open during Ramadan. Visitors to Dubai should dress modestly, particularly in conservative areas and public places. Swimwear is acceptable at the beach or around the swimming pool, but visitors should cover up elsewhere. Shorts and T-shirts are suitable attire in many places, although when visiting mosques, religious sites or older parts of the city, both men and women may feel more comfortable wearing loose-fitting clothes that cover shoulders, arms and legs. Women will usually be required to wear a headscarf when entering mosques.
Courtesy and hospitality are important virtues in the Arab world, and visitors will enjoy the friendliness and warm welcome provided by locals. If you are invited to a majlis, remove your shoes at the entrance. Males and females will probably be escorted to different sections. If you are sharing a meal with your host, accept food and refreshment before moving on to matters of business. It is important to stand up for new guests and older or higher-ranking people, and men are expected to stand when a woman enters the room. When greeting a member of the opposite sex who is Muslim, it is important not to offer to shake hands unless they extend their hand first – both men and women (more commonly women) may prefer not to shake hands with the opposite sex due to religious reasons.
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