The UAE's rise from a quiet strategic trading destination to a global economic powerhouse is nothing short of remarkable – and makes it one of the most exciting places to live.
The UAE has become a modern and cosmopolitan place by adopting an open-minded and liberal outlook and achieved a healthy balance between western and eastern traditions. It is still a country very much rooted in Islamic culture.
Islam is an integral part of UAE life and to followers it is more than just a religion; it’s a way of life that governs even everyday events, from what to wear to what to eat and drink. However, the UAE is progressively tolerant and welcoming; foreigners are free to practise their own religion, and the dress code is fairly liberal. Women are able to drive and walk around uncovered and unescorted.
The UAE has changed dramatically over the last 40 years, fuelled by economic prosperity that has made mega malls and towering skyscrapers the norm. Yet the country is also keen to safeguard its heritage, with active promotion of cultural and sporting events that represent their traditions, such as falconry, camel racing and traditional dhow sailing. Arabic culture in poetry, dancing, songs, art and craftsmanship is encouraged too. Traditional virtues of courtesy and hospitality are also highly prized.
Islam is the official religion of the UAE, and is widely practised throughout the country. The Islamic holy day is Friday. The basis of Islam is the belief that there is only one God and that the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) is his messenger. The faith shares a common ancestry with Christianity and many of the prophets before Muhammad can be found in Christian as well as Muslim writings. There are five pillars of Islam that all Muslims must follow: the Profession of Faith, Prayer, Charity (Zakat), Fasting (during the holy month of Ramadan) and Pilgrimage. Every Muslim is expected, at least once in his or her lifetime, to make the pilgrimage (Hajj) to the holy city of Mecca (also spelt Makkah) in Saudi Arabia.
Muslims are required to pray five times a day (facing Mecca), and times vary according to the position of the sun. Most people pray at a mosque, but it’s not unusual to see people kneeling by the side of the road if they are not near a place of worship. The modern-day call to prayer, transmitted through loudspeakers on the minarets, ensures that everyone knows it’s time to pray.
Islam is the principle religion, but the UAE is tolerant of other denominations. There are vibrant Christian and Hindu communities across the UAE.
Arabic is the official language of the UAE. However, English is very widely used in all areas of life, including in business. Most road signs, shop signs and restaurant menus display both English and Arabic. That’s not to say that learning a few words or phrases isn’t a good idea, though. Arabic is one of the oldest languages in human history and you’re likely to receive a warmer welcome or at least a smile if you try to learn the day-to-day terminology.
Even though English is widely spoken in the UAE, it helps to know a few words of basic Arabic.
Yes - na’am
No - la
Please - min fadlak (m) min fadlik (f)
Thank you - shukran
Please - (in offering) tafaddal (m) tafaddali (f)
Praise be to God - al-hamdu l-illah
God willing - in shaa’a l-laah
Greeting - (peace be upon you) as-salaamu alaykom
Greeting - (in reply) wa alaykom is salaam
Good morning - sabah il-khayr
Good morning -(in reply) sabah in-noor
Good evening - masa il-khayr
Good evening - (in reply) masa in-nuwr noor
Hello - marhaba
Hello - (in reply) marhabtayn
How are you? - kayf haalak (m)/kayf haalik (f)
Fine, thank you - zayn, shukran (m) zayna, shukran (f)
Welcome - ahlan wa sahlan
Welcome - (in reply) ahlan fiyk (m)/ahlan fiyki (f)
Goodbye - ma is-salaama
My name is - ... ismiy…
What is your name? - shoo ismak (m)/shoo ismik (f)
Where are you from? - min wayn inta (m)/min wayn inti (f)
I am from - … anaa min...
America - amrika
Britain - bretanya
Europe - oropa
India - alhind
How many/much? - kam?
Where? - wayn?
When? - mataa?
Which? - ayy?
How? - kayf?
What? - shoo?
Why? - meen?
Who? - miyn?
To/for - ila
In/at - fee
From - min
And - wa
Also - kamaan
There isn’t - maa fee
Zero - sifr
One - waahad
Two - ithnayn
Three - thalatha
Four - arba’a
Five - khamsa
Six - sitta
Seven - saba’a
Eight - thamaanya
Nine - tiss’a
Ten - ashara
Hundred - miya
Thousand - alf
Million - million
The cultural diversity of the population is reflected in the vast range of culinary delights available in the country. Anything from Mexican and Asian fusion to an English roast dinner is available.
The UAE is fast becoming a leading dining destination that's home to innovative chefs and five-star restaurants, many of which are located within hotels and leisure clubs.
Some of the tastiest food can be found in the small streetside cafeterias and independent eateries, where two people can often feast on Arabic or Asian cuisine, and enjoy a more traditional dining experience, for less than Dhs.50.