Despite Emirati culture and society being greatly affected by the rapid changes the UAE has experienced over the last few decades, many factors still keep the Emirati identity and people glued together.
The Arabic language and, more specifically, the Emirati dialect, serves as one pillar keeping the community close-knit through a shared and unique idiom.
Another would be the sense of Arab identity among the country's citizens, gluing Emirati citizens together through a sense of race.
A third founding factor would be the romantic connection to, if not the practice of, the nation's Bedouin roots, providing locals with a common origin founded in honour, pride and hospitality.
But what provides the greatest sense of unity has to be the Emiratis' homogeneous faith in Islam. Sharing a collective faith, which is part of the society's fabric and its members' daily conduct, provides a solid base of association to not only other citizens, but the greater Emirati Muslim community. This connection was evidently missing among the citizens of the US. The Americans' diverse backgrounds present a variety of faiths among them, ranging from the most pious Christians to atheists. With an array of different beliefs, and religion not prevalent in daily life, its citizens lacked a cohesiveness that I found among locals upon my return.
The first evidence I found of this devotional tie was in the language. I rarely heard God's name uttered in the streets of California but Allah's name was ringing as soon as I arrived at Abu Dhabi airport. "Thank Allah for your arrival," was the immigration officer's greeting, shortly followed by my family's: "Thank Allah for your return."
God's name in Arabic - Allah - has been echoing in my life since, with phrases such as "May Allah keep you", "Allah be with you", "Allah has willed it", "Glorious is Allah" and the well-known "Insha'Allah" or, if God wills, repeatedly received and reciprocated. This constant reference to Allah in all that happened, is happening and will happen provides a continuous reminder of a shared belief connecting all.
I found another strong link among many Emiratis through the use of verses from the Quran and the numerous Hadiths (reports of statements or actions of the Prophet Muhammad). These verses and Hadiths are used in everyday conversation to explain, enlighten and guide the faith's followers throughout their lives.
Referring to shared literature for guidance in every aspect of your life - such as managing your money or raising your children - creates a cohesion of lifestyles, which in turn unites the community further.
Daily prayer further strengthens the national unity. At home, group prayer, like family meals, can bring a family closer, designating certain times when all its members can come together. Shared time among relatives creates close-knit families, which can only further unite the nation.
Prayer outside the home also has a positive influence on the society's members. At work, for example, prayer times offer a chance to disconnect from the tasks at hand and come together in a peaceful, tranquil and reflective setting. These allotted times allow the followers to reconnect with others on a more deep and spiritual level, something difficult to do in the settings and mindset of most places of work.
Furthermore, Friday prayers give the opportunity for citizens to connect with the community in which they reside. With the majority of followers attending weekly prayers in their neighbourhood mosque, citizens have an opportunity to not only pray next to, but also mingle and chat with members of their community.
Lastly, Islamic holidays as well as the holy month of Ramadan also provide a heightened state of unification for the Emirati community.
Muharram (Islamic New Year), Mawlid Al Nabi (Prophet's Birthday), Eid Al Fitr (Ramadan End), and Eid Al Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) provide holidays four times a year where families and communities can come together in celebration.
Ramadan also creates an atmosphere where family and community are united more than any other month. Working hours adapt so more time is spent at home, the breaking of the fast brings families and friends together and people stay out later, socialising around town. All this promotes unity within a country and heightens a sense of belonging to a community.
The fact that all the citizens of the UAE share one religion that is constantly referred to in the language, whose teachings are used as guides in their daily lives, whose daily prayers and holidays bring families and communities together, results in a more unified and cohesive culture. This aids in keeping Emiratis close, which can only strengthen the country as a whole.
Thamer Al Subaihi is a reporter at The National and a returning Emirati who grew up largely in the US