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. It’s 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 don’t 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 it’s mostly done in private among family members, it’s 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 it’s 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 can’t find a mosque nearby or can’t reach one on time. Then it’s 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 isn’t 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 don’t 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 doesn’t 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.