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Ask Ali: Ramadan dress, prayer mats and desert trips

Our culture columnist on appropriate clothing for the UAE's customs, the use of prayer mats, and what to expect on a desert safari.

Dear Ali: How should women and men dress during Ramadan? FA, Sharjah

Dear FA: Whether it's Ramadan or not, Muslim ladies usually follow the recommended Islamic dress code and wear loose clothing that covers the whole body so that just the hands and feet can be seen.

A Muslima (Muslim lady) would also wear the veil or a scarf to cover their hair. This is the general understanding of how a Muslim lady should appear in public. Some ladies might even wear gloves and closed shoes or socks and cover their faces either completely or partially, with just the eyes left free. It is, in any case, a personal choice and depends on the level of devotion she has to the religion.

Non-Muslim ladies in the UAE are not expected to follow the Islamic dress code. However they are expected to dress modestly in public places, covering their shoulders, and wearing skirts that cover the knees, or trousers. They should avoid deep necklines, belly-baring outfits and transparent as well as very tight-fitting clothes.

A Muslim man normally wears a loose-fitting garment that covers the whole body and one that is either ankle or calf-long. For all men it is considered inappropriate to wear shorts above the knee. Short-sleeved shirts are OK but so-called muscle shirts are not acceptable outside the gym.

Please also note that everything I mentioned above is not just to be respected and accepted during Ramadan but all the time, since it's the norm of what we live by.


Dear Ali: You've touched upon the word "sijjada" and the prayer mat. How often would a Muslim pray on it? MB, Al Ain

Dear MB: The prayer mat, or as we call it in Arabic, "sijjada", or in Emirati dialect, the "siyada" is the piece of fabric that prevents us from praying on a dirty ground. We have many of these mats at our homes and offices. Even in a hotel prayer room you will still find some prayer mats placed on top of the carpet of the prayer room itself.

The prayer mat has a very strong, symbolic meaning and is traditionally taken care of in a holy manner. Muslims use various types of sijjadas, some made from textiles and some made from palm leaves. The designs usually represent the villages where they have been made, or are taken from some of the most famous mosques in the world. These mats are not to be sat on or hung on a wall for no good reason. We take care of these mats by folding them when we have finished praying, keeping them clean and checking for damage from humidity or ants.

We pray at different sijjadas around the house but it's mostly the ladies who use them since men attend most of the prayers at mosques. This has nothing to do with not permitting women to pray at the mosques but simply making it more flexible and comfortable for them, avoiding their having to walk to the mosque five times a day.


Dear Ali: I'm considering taking a desert camping trip, but what can I expect to see? BE, Dubai

Dear BE: Yes, we have a number of desert camps that are run by tourism firms. The camps are used for get-togethers and various programmes are offered, such as camel riding, henna painting, falconery, dune bashing in a 4X4 and, in most cases, also a meal. Some events might include belly dancing and shisha. However, these last two items do not necessarily represent our Emirati culture but are instead what tourists expect to see when visiting an Arab state.

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.

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