Dear Ali: I was wondering why dates are such a popular fruit in the UAE. Is it only because of the agriculture in the Gulf region or is it more a religious thing? BL, Al Ain
Dear BL: Yes, dates represent a great part of our rich history and cultural heritage and yes, the date also has a religious value.
When it comes to the climate, our country has two ecological zones that have an impact on agricultural production. On the one hand, there is the coastal region with its humid temperatures and warm winter months; on the other hand, we have the dryer region inland. Our dates grow where the climate is dryer, and more than 70 per cent of the world's dates grow in our region.
Dates are very important to us because, in earlier times, you were not able to survive the nomad or Bedouin life in the desert without dates. Before oil was discovered, our people relied on dates as a food supply since they are considered to be a fruit that contains natural healthy sugar and most of the vitamins that humans need.
The bark of the date palm trees was also used for firewood and building our small flat huts. When the leaves of the date palms are dyed, one can also use these raw materials as baskets or mats.
Ensuring the agriculture has been one of the main ambitions of our beloved father Sheikh Zayed who once said: "Provide me with sustainable agriculture, I will ensure you a civilised society." He cared so much about it, in particular the date palms that present a unique natural resource in our country, that many improvements were made to palm plantations. His ambition led to the UAE becoming a leading date exporter worldwide with its now more than 40 million date trees.
We are date lovers by nature but also by our religion. In Islam, the date is also known as a cure for illnesses and a pain reliever, and during Ramadan, we Muslims like to break our fast with a date. There is an Emirates International Date Palm Festival at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre from November 26 to December 1. Check out the website at www.datepalmfestival.net.
Dear Ali: I see so many images of falcons on dirham notes and on stamps. Why is falconry so important in your culture? KC, Al Ain
Dear KC: Thank you for paying attention to one of our great national symbols. Falconry is perceived as a traditional sports activity or hobby that is very much appreciated by our leaders and hence by us as Emiratis.
In earlier times, the Bedouins used falcons to hunt hares or other smaller animals for food. The falcons were also their companions during the struggle to survive the harsh desert life. Falconry did not turn into a sport until later in UAE history. Being a falconer requires special skills, such as taming the bird without hurting them and, most important, building a rapport with them.
The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital has represented falconers since 1999 and is another important facility that takes care of the birds' state of health while carrying out research to guarantee their health and protection. This hospital has become a popular place for tourists to come and see the falcons.
The importance of falconry in our culture is especially reflected by the huge investments our government puts into it. Besides preserving falconry, the UAE government has succeeded in registering it as a "living human heritage" by Unesco.
There are many falconry competitions in the winter months. The Abu Dhabi Falconry Competition is on December 1.
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.