x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Ask Ali: What's in a name when it comes to UAE marriage?

Ali Al Saloom offers tips and advice for living and working in the UAE.

Dear Ali: Why don't brides in the UAE use their husband's last name? Does religion have to do anything with this? AH, Ajman

Dear AH: I remember joking about this question every time that I received it in my cultural awareness workshops. I usually say that it's to avoid all the paperwork, or because every time a woman gets divorced, she will have to change her name back. I'm just kidding, actually; even before the arrival of Islam, the custom was for children to be named after their fathers. Think of Ishmael, son of Ibrahim; Joseph, son of Jacob; and Mary, daughter of Imran. These names refer to their fathers.

In the Quran, it doesn't directly say that a woman must keep her name or not. It's a cultural difference between here and other countries. In the history of many cultures, including America and Europe, the woman took their father's name.

If a woman is building a career, why should she lose her family name? It could make her seem secondary.

Some female Muslims in other countries take their husband's last name because it's the local custom, but here in the Gulf region, tribal communities such as the Bedouins believe in collective identity. You "belong" to your family and the whole tribe that shares your last name. When I say "belong", that doesn't mean that they own you, but it's a matter of identity and pride. Whether male or a female, you're part of a bloodline. Your father's name lets everyone know who your grandfather and uncles are. My expatriate friends would find it hard to name their third or fourth grandfathers.

Dear Ali: We are inviting some of our best Muslim friends to dinner at our house. We want to serve some Emirati dishes but also add our own dishes from back home. Are there important food restrictions that we should know about? YT, Abu Dhabi

Dear YT: It's sweet that you are considering such an event.

As you may already know, Muslims are restricted from eating food that includes alcohol or pork. And I would recommend staying away from "tastes-like-chicken" foods - some restaurants in the UAE serve, for example, crocodile, horse or frogs, and even though it's not "haram" or forbidden for Muslims, these products are considered makrooh, which is frowned upon to eat and not recommended.

Otherwise, you're more than welcome to serve whatever you feel like cooking. Go for a safe menu: a delicious chicken or mushroom soup, then some fresh salads. Dates are good, some yogurt, then white rice, and a stew or curry of chicken or meat. Lamb is always nice, as long as it's bought fresh and cooked well. And you're free to cook any international dishes, because we appreciate different food from other cultures, as long as it doesn't look raw or very complicated; it's good to know the ingredients just by seeing the dish.

Apart from food, if your guests say that they want to pray, surprise them by showing them the direction of the qiblah, which is the direction to Mecca (in the UAE, it's where the sun sets). It would also be thoughtful if you got them a prayer rug to use. Your guests will appreciate it, because it shows that you're aware of the importance of prayer. Have a delicious dinner.

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.

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