x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Ask Ali: The story behind the dirham in UAE's history

The story behind the UAE's currency and why it is tradition for men to walk ahead.

Dear Ali: Could you tell me more about the historical background of UAE's currency? CL, India

Dear CL: Before federation, we had no specific currency, and we mainly used the golden pound, Maria silver riyal and the Indian rupee. The Indian rupee became the major currency of our region, as it was introduced by the British between 1766 and 1837 - the people here were strongly influenced by British colonialism.

Over time, the Indian government started to reduce the value of the rupee in the Gulf and, as a result, much of our trade slowly lost its value, while the cost of living enormously increased. As a result, the UAE got rid of the rupee and began to use the Saudi riyal. During this time, Abu Dhabi even used the Bahraini dinar, while Dubai and other emirates shared the same riyal as Qatar.

In 1972, the UAE became a member of the International Monetary Fund, and we entered the currency trading market by issuing the Emirates dirham in 1993, which was pegged to the US dollar. An interesting fact is that the UAE and our good friend, Morocco, are the only two nations in the world to use a dirham as their currency.

Dear Ali: I can't help but notice that many Emirati women walk behind their men here. I also remember when I visited Qatar I noticed the same thing; why aren't ladies first? SA, Dubai

Dear SA: "'Ladies first' to be in danger or to be protected?" A question I like to share whenever I explain this question to our expat friends. It's true ladies are first, and because they are first we have to first protect them from any harm. Of course, ladies should always come first but you have to keep in mind that women can get into dangerous situations if they were to always come first.

In our culture, it is perceived as a tradition that men should always walk in front because men are naturally faster than women when it comes to walking. This is due to our dress code and that we don't wear heels (thank God), nor do we have a long abaya. Maybe another reason is that, when walking in shopping malls with their wives and children, men are looking for the exit doors quickly so they can save money!

There is no such rule that women must walk behind men; this is not mentioned in Islam, nor is it a part of our true Arabian tradition. But there is a certain social code and, under this code, we have the "protection" idea, which Arab men are well-known for. They would never, ever let any harm come to their women, so they sometimes tend to walk a bit ahead of their women to assure themselves that what's ahead is a safe and good place for their women to walk in.

I link this with how my grandfather would explain it to me. Sixty or 70 years ago, when life in the desert was a great challenge, the men viewed it as their responsibility to check the safety of the surroundings before leaving the place they were based at; they were nomadic shepherds and would move almost every week.

But there was always a reason behind it. Men took the first step outside to check out the area, making sure no harm would come to their families. Hence, the action of going out first and assuring things were safe was carried on from the desert. This became part of our modern lives as well, to protect the family, including our wives and children (in our day it also means fewer men who could or might hustle or flirt with our women).

Even if it appears as a great distance between the wife and her husband, for us, it's actually a form of showing respect as well as a matter of providing protection.

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.