Culture of the United Arab Emirates

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The United Arab Emirates has a diverse society.[1] The country's historical population as a small tribal community has been changed with the arrival of other nationals — first by the Iranians in 1810, and later by Indians and Pakistanis in the 1960s.[2]

The influence of Islamic, Persian and Arabian culture on its architecture, music, attire, cuisine, and lifestyle are very prominent as well. Five times every day, Muslims are called to prayer from the minarets of mosques, which are scattered around the country.[3] The weekend begins on Friday due to Friday being the holiest day for Muslims. Most Muslim countries have a Friday-Saturday or Thursday-Friday weekend.[4]

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

Emirati people[edit]

Main article: Emirati people

Emirati culture is based on Arabian culture and has been heavily influenced by Persian culture. Arabian and Persian inspired architecture is part of the expression of the local Emirati identity.[7] Persian influence on Emirati culture is noticeably visible in traditional Emirati architecture and folk arts.[8] For example, the "barjeel" has become an identifying mark of traditional Emirati architecture and is attributed to Persian influence.[8] Certain folk dances, such as "al-habban", are originally Persian.[8] Local Emirati culture has also been influenced by the cultures of East Africa and India.[8]

Due to growth in trade, many expatriates from Arab countries, the Indian subcontinent, and Europe came to the UAE seeking better lives and higher-income jobs.

Dubai has been criticized for perpetuating a class-based society, where migrant workers are in the lower classes.[9] Despite the diversity of the population, only minor and infrequent episodes of ethnic tensions, primarily between expatriates, have been reported in the city. Major holidays in Dubai include Eid ul-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, and National Day (2 December), which marks the formation of the United Arab Emirateas.[10]

The population as a whole is estimated by the U.S. State Department to be at 9 million people, with only 15–20% of these being citizens. The population growth rate is 4% per year. The primary religion in the United Arab Emirates is Islam, with the population estimated to be 96% Muslim. Hinduism and Christianity are minorities as stated by the United States State Department. The official language is Arabic. Other languages such as English, Persian, Hindi and Urdu are spoken among the different peoples. The U.S. State Department estimates the people of the UAE to have an average life expectancy of seventy-seven years.


The Wind Tower in Dubai.

The United Arab Emirates's architecture is inspired by Islamic architecture, Arabian architecture and Persian architecture. Arabian and Persian inspired architecture is part of the expression of the local Emirati identity.[7] For example, the "barjeel" has become an identifying mark of traditional Emirati architecture and is attributed to Persian influence.[8]

Emirati architecture reflects the traditional lifestyles and customs of the people. Building materials are simple, but well-adapted to local living and climatic circumstances. Portable tents traditionally provided shelter during tribal wanderings in the winter season. Inland more permanent houses were built of stone guss and were roofed with palm trees leaves. Fossilized coral, cut in blocks, bonded with sarooj, or a lime mixture derived from seashells, and plastered with chalk and water paste, was used extensively in coastal regions. Privacy and ventilation were important influences in.


Main article: Clothing in the UAE

Many of the older Emirati men prefer wearing the traditional Emirati clothes, such as the kandura, an ankle-length white shirt woven from wool or cotton while many local women wear an abaya, a black over-garment covering most parts of the body.[11] On an average a UAE male national would have up to 50 kanduras as they keep changing their clothing to ensure the dress being kept clean.[12] This attire is particularly well-suited for the UAE's hot and dry climate. Western-style clothing is also fairly popular, especially among the Emirati youth.

Etiquette is an important aspect of UAE culture and tradition, and whilst in the UAE, visitors are expected to show appropriate manners and etiquette. There have been several recent cases of expatriates not respecting the laws and being arrested. For example, there have been instances of expats for not wearing enough clothing at beaches, and some even being completely nude.[13]


Main article: Emirati cuisine

There are a lot of known dishes in UAE. For example: Harees, Machboos and Luqemat. The UAE's cuisine is multicultural due to the presence of many foreign workers in the country. Lebanese, Indian and Iranian (also called Persian) cuisines are the most common, and these are eaten both at home and in restaurants. The most popular streetside snack is shwarma i.e. meat sliced off a spit and rolled in a pocket of pita-type bread.[14]


Some peculiar cultural traits that are not found elsewhere include the khusmak a specifically Emirati kiss whereby Emiratis greet one another by touching one anothers nose. This is due to the nose being seen as a noble bodily feature. Some expats accuse Emiratis of being more social amongst themselves rather than with others, but Emiratis view this as being a modus operandi that allows them to avoid forgetting their culture.[15]

Literature and poetry[edit]

The main themes in Emirati poetry for Arab poets range from satire, chivalry, self-praise, patriotism, religion, family, and love, and could range from descriptive to narrative.

Poetry in the United Arab Emirates has a great influence on culture, being an Arab country in the Persian Gulf where poetry has been part of since the dawn of time. The style and form of ancient poetry in the UAE was strongly influenced by the 8th-century Arab scholar, Al Khalil bin Ahmed. This form underwent slight modification (Al Muwashahat) during the period of Islamic civilization in Andalucia (Spain), where "the line or bait adhered to the two hemistitches form, each with an equal number of feet, all the second hemistitches ending in the same rhyming letter and sound throughout the poem". The indigenous Arabic poetry form, however, was not spared from western influence; sometime in the 20th century, prose poetry started to make their way into the local literary scene.

Ibn Majid, who was born between 1432 and 1437 in Ras Al Khaimah was an iconic poet. Coming from a family of successful sailors, Ibn Majid has a total of 40 surviving compositions, 39 of which are verses.

The greatest luminaries in the UAE literary realm during the 20th century, particularly for Classical Arabic poetry, were Mubarak Al Oqaili (1880–1954), Salem bin Ali al Owais (1887–1959), and Ahmed bin Sulayem (1905–1976). Three other poets from Sharjah, known as the Hirah group, also thrived during the 20th century including Khalfan Musabah (1923–1946), Sheikh Saqr Al Qasimi (1925–1993), an ex-ruler of Sharjah, and Sultan bin Ali al Owais (1925–2000). The Hirah group's works are observed to have been heavily influenced by the Apollo and romantic poets.[16]

Music and dance[edit]

The United Arab Emirates is a part of the Arab khaleeji tradition. Yowla is a type of music and dance performed mainly in communities of Bantu peoples from the African Great Lakes region.[16] During celebrations singing and dancing also took place and many of the songs and dances, handed down from generation to generation, have survived to the present time. Young girls would dance by swinging their long black hair and swaying their bodies in time to the strong beat of the music. Men would re-enact battles fought or successful hunting expeditions, often symbolically using sticks, swords, or rifles. Hollywood and Bollywood movies are popular in Dubai. The UAE has an active music scene, with musicians Amr Diab, Diana Haddad, Tarkan, Aerosmith, Santana, Mark Knopfler, Elton John, Pink, Bon Jovi, Pink Floyd, Shakira, Celine Dion, Coldplay, Linkin Park, Zain Malik Slipknot and Phil Collins having performed in the country. Kylie Minogue was paid 4.4 million dollars to perform at the opening of the Atlantis resort on November 20, 2008. The Abu Dhabi Festival has been held annually since 2004.


Football is the most popular sport in the UAE. Emirati football clubs Al-Ain, Al-Wasl, Al-Shabbab ACD, Al-Sharjah, Al-Wahda, and Al-Ahli are the most popular teams and enjoy the reputation of long-time regional champions.[17] The great rivalries keep the streets of the UAE energized as people fill the streets when their favorite team wins. The UAE national football team qualified for the FIFA World Cup in 1990 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.[18] The UAE also recently won the Gulf Cup of Nations held in Abu Dhabi in January 2007.[19]

Cricket is one of the most popular sports in the UAE, largely due to the expatriate population from the Indian subcontinent. In UAE There are 3 International Cricket stadium in UAE. They have held many international cricket matches such as one T-20,2014 IPL, and many more.

Other popular sports include camel racing, falconry, endurance riding, and tennis.[20]

Magazines on Culture in the UAE[edit]

  • The Vision (Magazine) is a Dubai-based Magazine presenting Dubai’s perspective on Culture,Art, Music, Business and Life in the Emirate.[21]
  • Brownbook, based in Dubai, is an urban lifestyle guide focusing on art, design, and travel across the Middle East and North Africa.[22]
  • Canvas is an international bi-monthly magazine dedicated to art and culture from the Middle East and Arab world.[23]
  • Bidoun covers art and culture from the Middle East.[24]


Date English Arabic
January 1 New Year's Day Ra's as-Sana al-meladiah رأس السنة الميلادية
zil hajjah 9 Day of the Sacrifice Eid-ul-Adha عيد الأضحى
M1246 Islamic New Year Ra's as-Sana al-Hijria رأس السنة الهجرية
variable The Night Journey Al-Isra'a wal-Mi'raj الإسراء والمعراج
December 2   National Day Yawm al watani اليوم الوطني
Ramadan 29/30 End of Ramadan Eid-ul-Fitr عيد الفطر

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Country and Metropolitan Stats in Brief. MPI Data Hub
  2. ^ "Negotiating Change: The New Politics of the Middle East". Jeremy Jones. 2007. pp. 184–186. 
  3. ^ "UAE Culture". 2000-06-01. Archived from the original on July 19, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  4. ^ Advanced Digital Technology "New UAE Weekend". Gulfnews. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  5. ^ Al Ain, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  6. ^ "Culture - The Official Portal of UAE Government". Retrieved 2016-06-30. 
  7. ^ a b Handbook of Islamic Marketing. p. 430. Arabian and Persian inspired architecture is part of the expression of a 'local' identity. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Folklore and Folklife in the United Arab Emirates. p. 167. 
  9. ^ The Dark Side of Dubai, Johann Hari, The Independent, 7 April 2009.
  10. ^ "Official holidays in UAE". Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  11. ^ "Clothing in the UAE". Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  12. ^ "UAE National Dress". 
  13. ^ "Blame Europeans for topless displays, British women say". Gulfnews. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  14. ^ Jenny Walker; Terry Carter; Lara Dunston (2007). Oman, UAE & Arabian Peninsula. Lonely Planet. pp. 381–. ISBN 978-1-74104-546-8. 
  15. ^ Abed, Ibrahem (2001). United Arab Emirates: A New Perspective. p. 114. 
  16. ^ a b "Welcome to Abu Dhabi – Literature and Poetry". 2009-07-01. Archived from the original on March 21, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  17. ^ "Clubs, Sports Clubs UAE United Arab Emirates". Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  18. ^ "UAE – The Official Web Site – News". Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  19. ^ "Gulf Cup 2007". Gulfnews. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  20. ^ "UAE Sports". Archived from the original on July 27, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  21. ^
  22. ^ "Brownbook Magazine Homepage". Retrieved 24 May 2010. 
  23. ^ "Canvas Online". Retrieved 24 May 2010. 
  24. ^ * Bidoun