The National's culture columnist offers advice appropriate gifts and resources for familiarising yourself with Arabic and Islam.
Ask Ali: Buying birthday gifts, and books for learning
Dear Ali: My Emirati friend is turning 12 and I have been invited to her birthday party. It is also her sister's party. I am Canadian and wondering what to get her. Do I also need to get something for her sister? Thanks. MA, Abu Dhabi
Dear MA: Thank you for your question, and happy birthday to your friend. Yes, it's usual for the birthday girl to expect a gift from her guests. You can buy her whatever you think she would like. As she is your friend you are in a good position to know what her tastes are. My suggestions? You could buy perfume, a make-up bag or even shoes, if you know her size and width fitting. Alternatively, you could buy her a gift voucher so that she can buy her own present from that store that issues it. You could put the voucher in a nice greeting card adorned with some balloons.
As for her sister, yes, it's a nice gesture to get her something as well but it doesn't have to be as big a gift as the one for your friend.
Dear Ali: Where can I find books in Amharic language (Ethiopian) to teach newly converted Muslims about Islam. I would like some books that teach Arabic language. I can't seem to find any books in Abu Dhabi about prayer. IB, Abu Dhabi
Dear IB: Your letter made me think of the great number of Ethiopians in our country, so I am sure there are some ways of finding these books in your language. I would suggest that, initially, you check with Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, as officials there can direct you to the correct department who would help people who have converted to Islam. They can provide you with the requisite books for Islam and praying. You may contact them for assistance on www.adjd.gov.ae.
I would also recommend you check with the Zayed House for Islamic Culture - www.zhic.ae - they can provide a great amount of knowledge and courses both on Arabic and Islam.
Dear Ali: I have just arrived in the UAE and, frankly, I feel a bit confused as I can't find any books on the language. I've taken some Arabic lessons but I'm not able to relate to the way Emiratis speak. Any tips or ideas on what I can do? RT, Dubai
Dear RT: It's obvious that the Arabic you have learnt is probably Classic Arabic dialect because if you have learnt any Khaleeji Gulf dialect you would notice already that the way we speak is really all based on our emotions at that moment. Most English speakers are clear, accurate, very direct, factual and linear when they speak. The conversation is really undertaken step by step until you get to the point. However, our way of speaking is based on stressing the emotional part of the words and topic, and therefore we naturally speak employing a range of inflections to emit how serious something is, or how sad, happy, exciting something is, and so on. Our oral ability in communicating is therefore very effective.
This is why Arabs have excelled in poetry through the ages as it is embedded in our Emirati culture. Therefore, the reason why you can't relate to the Emirati dialect is because it's totally different from the other Arabic dialects you might have picked up from Egypt, Syria, or even Saudi Arabia. Yes, we are all Arabs and speak passionately, but the sound is different from country to country.
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.