x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Emiratis hold traditions dear

Rapid economic development has dramatically changed the way Emiratis live, but their core values remain intact.

If you compare the past with the present, oil appears to have brought great change. However, if you look more closely with an insider’s perspective, you will see that, while our lifestyle may appear to have changed superficially, the core values of our society have not.

Our grandmothers did not go to university, but many were educated by teachers at home and learnt about other countries and different ways. They had children and they raised them and yes, our lives are easier. Has there been change? Of course. However, this young generation is not lost yet.

Do a Google search for “modernity” and you will find a variety of definitions, one of which is having “an aura of technological modernity”. However, traditional social and religious values are not inherently incompatible with modern technology. “Vogue” is another word often cited alongside modernity and, like the fashion magazine, modernity can be superficial.

In her paper Definitional Excursions: The Meanings of Modern/Modernity/Modernism, the American academic Susan Stanford Friedman asks: “What did modernity mean to a graduate student in English literature in the heady days of the 1960s?” Friedman writes: “Modernism was rebellion. Modernism was resistance, rupture. To its progenitors. To its students. Modernism was the antidote to the poison of tradition, obligation.” However, Emiratis believe that a society’s style of living can be modernised, but its core values can remain intact.

Many studies “about us” by western experts and teachers focus on the age of women in university. As a Zayed University graduate, I agree that campus life can be very challenging and confusing for women (here as in any other country). It’s a time when you have to find out who you are, find friends your own age and try to shine. And all while working hard, studying and taking new ideas on board.

It is also a time when some young women choose to marry and have to consider how they feel, while others choose the path of rebellion, believing that it will make them unique and more popular.

Post-university, life for young Emirati women becomes easier, but again, there is change. More comfortable in themselves, women can take what they have learnt and apply it to their lives in the real world. Relationships change too. When you are closer to your mother, everything falls into place. It’s as if you have been searching for something, and after trying many different things, you find that what you have been looking for was at home all along. Your mother becomes your dearest friend.

And when we make that discovery, concepts discussed in this week’s cover story (The challenge of change, page 4) such as “lost identity”, “modernity versus tradition”, “depression”, “science versus religion” and even “confusion” no longer seem that relevant.

In the UAE, the divorce rate is high, but isn’t that the case everywhere else in the world? At least the children of a divorced Emirati couple know who their fathers are. In the West, the father is often not even married to the mother and in some cases is unknown to the child or never seen. Imagine how that affects children’s lives?

After 40 years of rapid development and building our country, the UAE government has responded to the pressure of life in modern society and it is helping people, particularly Emirati women, to find a sense of balance.

bhashemi@thenational.ae