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Culture of the United Arab Emirates

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A dallah is a traditional Arabic coffee pot for serving Arabian coffee. It is a symbol of the Emirati culture, featuring on the United Arab Emirates dirham coin

The culture of the United Arab Emirates is part of the culture of Eastern Arabia.[1] Its historical population was a small tribal community that changed with the arrival of an influx of foreign nationals in the mid-20th century.[2] Emirati culture is a blend of Arabian, Islamic, and Persian cultures, with influences from the cultures of East Africa and Indian Subcontinent.[3] Islam has had a prominent influence on local architecture, music, attire, cuisine, and lifestyle.[4]

In the United Arab Emirates, the city of Al Ain in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[5] The Emirate of Sharjah was named "The Cultural capital of the Arab World" by UNESCO in 1998 and the "Capital of Islamic Culture for 2014" by the OIC.[6]


Artifacts uncovered in the UAE show a history of human habitation, transmigration, and trade spanning over 125,000 years.[7] The area was previously home to the Magan people[8] known to the Sumerians, who traded with both coastal towns and bronze miners and smelters from the interior. A rich history of trade with the Harappan culture of the Indus Valley is also evidenced by finds of jewelry and other items and there is also extensive early evidence of trade with Bactria[9] as well as the Levant.[10]

Arabic culture[edit]

The UAE's official language is Arabic, but English is widely spoken due to the country's diverse nature and economic globalization.[11][12][13] Farsi, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali and Mandarin are also widely spoken by expatriates from Iran, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and China.[14][15][16]

Native Emirati nationals speak the Gulf Arabic, which is similar to that spoken in other GCC countries and Iraq.[12][17][18]

Naming conventions[edit]

The first name is followed by “bin” or “bint,” which means ‘son of’ or ‘daughter of’, respectively, and the name of the father is followed by the family name.[14]

After marriage, women retain their family names, and children take the name of the father.[19]


Sheikh Maktoum house courtyard featuring the common architecture of wind-catchers called Barjeel.

The United Arab Emirates' architecture is influenced by Islamic architecture and Arabian architecture.[20] For example, the "barjeel" has become an identifying mark of traditional Emirati architecture and is attributed to Persian influence.[3]

Emirati architecture reflects the traditional lifestyles and customs of the people. Building materials are simple but well-adapted to local living and climate. For migrant tribes, portable tents traditionally provided shelter during the winter season. Inland, more permanent houses were built of stone guss with roofs made from palm tree leaves. Fossilized coral, cut in blocks, bonded with sarooj or a seashell-derived lime mixture, and plastered with chalk and water paste, was used extensively in coastal regions.[21]

A courtyard architectural layout was commonly seen in the vernacular architecture of the UAE such as houses, schools, mosques, and governmental buildings. The courtyard was a thermal regulator in hot and humid weather but also had privacy functionality. Privacy and ventilation are important components in traditional architecture of the UAE.[21]



Women flip their hair sideways and wear brightly coloured traditional dress while performing an Emirati folk dance.

Many Emirati men and women prefer traditional Emirati clothes: the kandura and abaya.[22]

Traditional clothing is designed for comfort in high temperatures and to keep with the Islamic religious beliefs in the country. Clothing that cover more parts of the body from the sunlight is preferred.[23][24] Ballgowns are common in this area. Ballgowns are commonly adorned with silver and gold.[25]

Colourful embroidered dressing is common during occasions such as weddings or dancing. A common dance in the Gulf Arab countries is the Khaleeji folk dance which entails rows of women in close proximity to one another who move in a slow fashion while rhythmically swaying their hair from side to side. The dress is an important aspect of this dance.[26]


The Emirati diet is a mixture of a Bedouin diet (meat and camel milk), a fishermen's diet (fish), and a farmer's diet (dates). These foods, along with key spices, such as cinnamon, saffron, and turmeric, form the basis of both historical and modern Emirati cuisine.[27]

Vegetables that are easy to grow, such as cucumbers and tomatoes, are featured prominently in the diet. Dried lemons, called loomi, are grown locally and used in numerous dishes. Mangoes are also grown in the northern emirates. Meats traditionally used include chicken or small fowl, such as Houbara bustards, and goats. Since camels are highly prized for milk and as a means of transportation, camel meat is normally reserved for special occasions.

Muslims do not eat bacon, ham or pork, and they do not drink alcoholic beverages.[28][29]

Popular dishes include harees, fouga, kabsa and luqemat. Common Middle Eastern cuisine is also widely available. Due to the cosmopolitan nature of the United Arab Emirates, the most popular street-side snack is the Middle-Eastern shawarma.[30]

One of the best national dishes is stuffed camel cooked slowly over a pit of burning charcoal.[29] Harees is also a national specialty; it is a porridge-like dish often served in Ramadan or during large celebrations like weddings. It is made with wheat, meat (or chicken) and salted water.[31]

Greetings and social customs[edit]


When entering a Majlis, guests will start greeting individuals from the right side to the left side of the room, unless there is an elderly guests, who should be greeted first. For men, the traditional Emirati greeting is the khushmak, or touching of the noses. Women greet each other by shaking hands and giving a kiss on the cheek. Kissing the top of the head is also a common way of greeting in the UAE.[32] Members of the opposite gender should not embrace unless they are closely related.[14]

After greeting guests, the host serves Emirati Coffee to the guests starting from the right side of the room and moving their way to the left of the room, it is also common for the host to serve the elderly guests first or an important guest in the room. It is also part of the Emirati social custom for the person serving coffee to hold the coffee pot "dallah" in their left hand and serve the coffee cup to the guest using their right hand. In a male gathering, the person serving the coffee will remain standing until the guest shakes their coffee cup to indicate that they do not want a refill, while in a female gathering, the woman serving the coffee is allowed to sit while serving others coffee. Less than half the coffee cup should be filled and the coffee being served should be hot to indicate to the guest that the coffee was specially made for them. For the guests, the coffee cup is taken with their right hand and given back using their right hand once done.[32]



Based on their educational backgrounds and historical environment, Emirati poetry is divided into three main periods. Initially, the generation that emerged in the early 1900s did not have any official education, but they made significant contributions to Emirati literature, especially in the style of Arabic poetry known as qaṣīdah. However, because of the lack of resources and printing skills available at the time, a large portion of their labor is still undocumented. Second, as the UAE's population moved from rural to urban areas in the middle of the 20th century, their literary expressions also changed. Finally, a golden age of Emirati poets is represented by the post-oil, modern generation, who were primarily educated at universities.[33] Themes in Emirati poetry are diverse, ranging from satire, self-praise, and patriotism, to chivalry, religion, family, and love.[34][35][36]


Of all the literary forms, dramatic literature seems to be the least popular among Emiratis. Like poetry, there are two main genres that Emirati drama falls into. The first category, popular drama, may only appeal to Emirati readers because it is written in the Emirati dialect. On the other hand, Tawfiq al-Hakim, an Egyptian playwright, set the blueprint for the second category, which is known as intellectual drama. Because they are written in standard Arabic, these dramatic works are accessible to a wider readership. Both types of Emirati drama add distinctive viewpoints and creative expressions to the UAE's cultural scene, despite their difficulties in gaining general recognition.[33]


The Arabic short tales first became popular in the United Arab Emirates in the late 1960s and early 1970s when a few young Emiratis started distributing their works to a particular readership. The first efforts toward the creation of Emirati literature were made during this time, laying the groundwork for further expansion. Journalism was crucial in developing Emirati writing in the 1970s and 80s, especially in the field of short tales, as newspapers and magazines offered spaces for publishing and promoting these works. [33]

Among Emiratis, the novel is the kind of fiction literature that is least popular. As most literary critics and pundits have long speculated, the Emirati novel's sluggish evolution can be linked to the fact that it is typically longer than other modern literary genres and far more intricate and challenging to write.[33] The first Emirati novel, Shahenda, was written by Rashid Abdullah Al Nuaimi.[37]

Music, dance, and film[edit]

A band performs the Ayyala, which is a cultural dance derived from Arab tribes sword battles.

The United Arab Emirates is a part of the Arab khaleeji tradition. Yowlah, a type of music and dance also known as Al-Ayyala, has been registered by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2014.[38] One of the UAE's most famous traditional singers is Mehad Hamad, who is known for singing patriotic lyrics and poems about the desert.[39][40]

Many traditional songs and dances, handed down from generation to generation, have survived to the present time. Young girls would dance by swinging their hair, which was traditionally worn long, and swaying their bodies. Men often re-enacted battles or successful hunting expeditions using a weapon dance; such as the Yowlah.[41]


The Dubai Tennis Championships in 2006.

Football is the most popular sport in the UAE. Emirati football clubs Al-Ain, Al-Wasl, Al Nasr, Al-Sharjah, Al-Wahda, and Shabab Al-Ahli are the most popular teams and enjoy reputations as long-time regional champions.[42] The UAE national football team qualified for the FIFA World Cup in 1990 along with Egypt. It was the third consecutive World Cup with two Arab nations qualifying, after Kuwait and Algeria in 1982, and Iraq and Algeria again in 1986.[43] The UAE also won the Arabian Gulf Cup held in Abu Dhabi in January 2007.[44]

Recognized by UNESCO as living human heritage, falconry has evolved into a revered sport and cultural tradition within the UAE.[45][46] Owners of falcons place great value on their falcons, considering them to be valued family members and trusted companions. With an estimated 5000 falconers in the country, a community is bounded by a shared passion for this sport. Through events such as the International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition (ADIHEX), the UAE government actively supports and promotes falconry, highlighting its value as a sport and a treasured heritage.The importance of falconry in the United Arab Emirates is further highlighted by the existence of specialist institutions like the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. [47]

Inhabitants of Arab States of the Persian Gulf have enjoyed camel racing for many years, and it is considered a traditional sport.[48] Formalizing camel racing was one way of maintaining its central role in UAE life. In the past, UAE had a reputation for exploiting South Asians as jockeys.[49] However, robot jockeys are now used after strict government regulations were passed prohibiting underage jockeys from racing.[50]

The UAE now has no fewer than 15 race tracks across the seven emirates. Nad Al Sheba Racecourse, 10 kilometers outside of Dubai, Al Wathba, 30 kilometers south-east of Abu Dhabi, and Al Ain track, which is 20 kilometers west of Al Ain, are all large, well-equipped camel tracks with high-tech facilities. Two smaller tracks are located in Sharjah, one in Ra's al-Khaimah and one in Umm al-Qaiwain. Others are spread throughout the desert areas.[51]


A lot of holidays in the UAE include Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, Eid Al-Adha and Arafah Day, both of which are celebrated during the Hajj period, the UAE National Day on December 2 and 3, which marks the formation of the United Arab Emirates, New Year on January 1, Commemoration Day on November 30 to honour those who died fighting for the UAE, the Islamic (Hijri) New Year, and the Prophet's Birthday (Mawlid).[52][53]

Date English Arabic
January 1 New Year's Day Ra's as-Sana al-meladiah رأس السنة الميلادية
Zil Hajjah 10 Day of the Sacrifice Eid-al-Adha عيد الأضحى
Muharram 1 Islamic New Year Ra's as-Sana al-Hijria رأس السنة الهجرية
Rajab 27 The Night Journey Al-Isra'a wal-Mi'raj الإسراء والمعراج
December 2   National Day Yawm al watani اليوم الوطني
Ramadan 29/30 Shawwal 1 End of Ramadan Eid-ul-Fitr عيد الفطر

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