What have Emirati people lost in modern times?
Updated on 02 November 2017

By: Salamah Ghudayer

We get this question almost daily at The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. In many ways it is a tricky question, as all cultures worldwide have faced a huge shift in mannerisms and lifestyle with the advent of technology. There are pluses and minuses to modernisation. For Emirati’s though, we have started to lose a great deal of what made this civilisation unique and great. However, we have some people who are watchful and determined to protect some of these subjects as we see them disappearing; such as the use of Arabic language and its protector, His Highness, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the U.A.E., Prime Minister of the U.A.E. and Ruler of Dubai, as well as countless others in love with culture and history determined to keep the past alive, with all of its lessons and attributes found now on social media sites, in art galleries and curators of museums.

Did you know, in Islam, travellers have rights to protection, food and shelter for three days in our homes? Many have forgotten this and, yet it was a corner stone of tradition which kept the Bedouin of the desert and the seafaring coastal tribes safe and comfortable as they moved about, even through enemy territory. When one is a traveller, their category changes and they are to be cared for and protected no matter where they originated from. Modern life though has made us wary of strangers and very protective of our homes, possessions and family members; with good reason though and perhaps the travellers have changed a bit too.

Did you know in Islam, people are not to have private conversations amongst just two, while a third is present? It would be considered rude in any culture really; the idea of two people ignoring a third or whispering even, leaving the person feeling unwanted or unimportant. Yet, our grandparents remind us this is what is happening when our cell phone rings, we answer leaving our elder sitting there. We see it happening all the time, without a second thought from the perpetrators. It can sometimes take a grandmother grabbing a phone and tossing it into the ghusala – the bowl of water that accompanies the local coffee setting, where many a smart phone have seen their last signal, or a grandfather who puts his hand to his ear and starts shouting as if he too has important business to discuss; while we take notice, and end our phone call. We can thank the traditional sense of humour for them reminding us of our manners asked of us in tradition, but demanded in religion.

Yet what else have we lost? We have lost the desperate fear of a child being born at 25 weeks, chest pains, lumps in lymph nodes, broken spinal cords, or extreme high fevers. We have not only the machinery and technology to give us a much higher chance of survival, but we have an environment the skilled and gifted can come and use these devices to help save us. We have also invited the best of teachers in their fields. We have brought the world to us and we have gone out to the world thanks to over three national airlines; many years ranked the best in the world. We don’t just try to be modern, we have tried to have the best and be the best in modernity. 

Then there is the Arabic language I alluded to earlier. In the United Arab Emirates there are long term residents who have gotten by for years without having to speak a word of Arabic. English was so widely relied upon, it got to a point some locations did not even have signs or written material in Arabic script! This is where Dubai’s ruler stepped in. With his love of poetry, he understood that the original language of Islam’s holy book the Quran, could not be allowed to disappear. Arabic lessons had to be made fun and colourful in classrooms. Documents and public signage needed to be in Arabic. Competitions were created, with a variety of initiatives, the language came back from strength to strength and though a generation may have lost their skills in a high-level grasp of the professional and academic use of the language, the generations that followed have embraced it like the ones preceding it. 

So, what have we lost and gained, is forever altering, but much of the positives have been retained with modernity. It is in the Emirati psyche that what is old is valuable and so what is new must be tried; kept or discarded depending on its impact to our ancestry, environment and nature as religious beings. We don’t always get it right in the short term; but we hope to in the long run.

With thanks to Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Call 04-3536666 or visit

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