Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Ask Ali: Why rubbing noses is more than just a custom

Rubbing noses is a unique way of greeting showing friendship and deep respect.

Dear Ali: Why do Emirati men rub their noses when they see each other? Am I expected to do the same? SU, Al Ain

Dear SU: In our culture, nose-rubbing has been passed down from generation to generation. It is a unique way of greeting, showing friendship and deep respect, but at the same time it works like a traditional code among the Bedouins.

The old custom of rubbing noses is not an Arab invention but the code of indigenous peoples in many parts of the world. The Inuit and the Scandinavians also do it. It varies from rubbing to kissing, but they all require the noses to touch.

To understand the significance, look at your face in the mirror to determine which part of it you find most appealing. Itís often the nose, which explains why this feature has a special status (along with the forehead).

For example, if someone were to push your shoulder, would you feel as offended if they pushed your nose? Probably not.

This custom is linked with pride and dignity. As people who worship God, we tend to bow and prostrate by touching our forehead and nose to the ground as a sign of respect. It also translates into greeting others, especially among Emiratis and people from the region.

People might think women in the UAE donít greet each other this way, which is not true at all. Women from traditional families do practise this, especially among grandmothers, their grandchildren and daughters. Because itís mostly done in private among family members, itís difficult for others to see this in practice.

Dear Ali: Do Muslims pray five times daily at home or do they have to go to the mosque daily to pray? CH, Abu Dhabi

Dear CH: You are right. Muslims do pray five times a day since itís one of the five pillars of Islam and, therefore, it is an obligation for every Muslim who has reached adulthood.

There are five important prerequisites for the prayer: the necessary ablutions beforehand; the right intention to serve God; appropriately covering oneself; facing the Qiblah (the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca) during prayer; and praying on time.

Now, when it comes to the location where a Muslim should pray, thanks to God, mercy on us, as much as it is preferred to pray in the mosque, there are many times where men canít find a mosque nearby or canít reach one on time. Then itís fine to pray wherever they are. Of course, the home is also acceptable (except in bathrooms). Cemeteries or any other place considered unclean would not be suitable either.

Men are obliged to go to the mosque during Jumma prayer, which takes place after the sermon (khutbah) on Fridays.

But matters are handled differently with women. If it is an unsuitable time of the month for a woman, then she isnít allowed to pray at all because of the lack of purification. Apart from that, she is also obliged to pray just like the men. However, women donít have to pray in the mosque and can practise all the prayers at home.

Dear Ali: I am from Italy and will be starting my new job in Dubai in three months. What is the best way to prepare myself for life in the UAE? NM, Rome

Dear AT: Let me start by telling you that before coming here it would be a good idea to research the cost of living in the UAE (for you and your family), learn some basic Arabic, and visit a cultural awareness workshop in your country (if your employer offers it) so that you become more familiar with our cultural values within a -business context.

Since the UAE is a Muslim country, try to be respectful and show empathy towards our values and faith. This doesnít mean you have to give up your lifestyle completely, but try to dress and behave in a modest, more conservative way than you are used to in Italy. In fact, our country welcomes the mixture of different cultural backgrounds found here.

As for your work life, you will have to get used to the different schedule since here in the UAE, like many other Arab nations, the week starts on Sunday, with Friday and Saturday being the weekends. Good luck with your move.

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.

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Hajer Almosleh, the winner of the last year's short story competition, at her home in Dubai. Duncan Chard for the National

Get involved with The National’s short-story competition

Writers have two weeks to craft a winning submission, under the title and theme "The Turning Point".

 It is believed that the desert-like planet of Tatooine is being recreated for Star Wars: Episode VII. Could that be where filming in the UAE comes in? Courtesy Lucasfilms

Could the force be with us? The search for Star Wars truth

On the hunt for the Star Wars: Episode VII set, which a growing number of people are sure is in Abu Dhabi, but no one can seem to find.

 With an estimated 18,000 comic and film fans having already paid a visit to this weekend’s Middle East Film and Comic Con, organisers are hopeful they will have surpassed last year total, of 21,000, by its close. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

In pictures: Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai

Dubai's World Trade Center was awash with people visiting this weekend’s Middle East Film and Comic Con. Here's some of our best pictures.

 Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, presents Quincy Jones with the Abu Dhabi Festival Award as the Admaf founder Hoda Al Khamis-Kanoo applauds. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival.

A candid talk with Quincy Jones about the UAE, Lil Wayne and the Abu Dhabi Festival award

The Abu Dhabi Festival honoree Quincy Jones discusses his legendary career as a music producer, the return of Dubai Music Week and why he can’t handle the rapper Lil Wayne.

 Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge arrive at Wellington Military Terminal on an RNZAF 757 from Sydney on April 7, 2014 in Wellington, New Zealand. Chris Jackson / Getty Images

In pictures: Will and Kate visit Australia and New Zealand

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge are on a tour Down Under for three weeks.

 A protester gives a victory sign during clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo in November 2011. Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

Street life: humanity’s future depends on ability to negotiate and sustain public space

Negotiating our ever more crowded cities and maintaining vibrant public spaces are among the major challenges facing humanity in the coming decades.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National