x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Ask Ali: Marriage law and birthday etiquette explained

It's a nice gesture to invite Emirati friends to your birthday party, writes Ali Al Saloom.

Dear Ali: Is it OK to invite my Emirati friends / co-workers to my birthday party? What about wishing them a happy birthday, is there something wrong about it? JM, Al Ain

Dear JM: In our culture, celebrating birthdays does not have an Islamic significance due to its pagan background. Despite its un-Islamic tradition, it is very generous of you to want to invite your Emirati friends for your birthday. Let us say it this way, if you invite us Emiratis just for a dinner at your home, this would be more comfortable for us since we do love to share food and come together as a family.

If there is a celebration of any kind, instead of serving alcohol, try adding tea and Arab coffee with delicious cakes and dates since these are served in a Muslim homes.

The greatest celebrations in a Muslim's life are the Eids (Eid Al Fitr after Ramadan and Eid Al Adha as the day of sacrifice). On Eid Al Fitr, there is a big feast where several kinds of meals are served and all the children receive presents while on Eid Al Adha, lamb meat is commonly served.

The main purpose of these Islamic celebrations is to bring Muslims together and strengthen one's ties with God, family and friends by giving charity.

Even our beautiful country has a birthday that we celebrate on National Day, December 2, a time when we like to decorate our cars with the colours of our flag and images of our beloved Sheikh Zayed. This is how we like to honour him, our father who brought the UAE federation into existence.

Wishing someone a happy birthday does not imply celebrating it and is nothing wrong. Based on its intentions, it can also be seen as a kind gesture to wish someone good things in their life.

There is even a hadith (Prophet Mohammed's sayings) that proclaims how important it is to wish the same for yourself as for your Muslim brothers and sisters, which is similar to the golden rule in the Christian faith about treating your neighbours the same way you want to be treated.

To prove that it is OK to share a birthday greeting, here I'm wishing you and all people who are born today a happy and a blessed birthday.

Dear Ali: Is it permissible for a local man to marry a French woman? EL, AD

Dear AD: When it comes to family and relations we tend to be a bit conservative - some families more and some a bit less. Most Emirati marriages are based on family recommendations and families see a marriage not just as tying the knot between two individuals, but as a connection sealed between two families.

This tradition is rooted in our culture, where loyalties often are based on family relationship that found their expression in marriages. With more interaction, due to studying abroad and many expats living in our country, the pattern of choosing a spouse has changed and some Emiratis have chosen their life-partner from outside our own society. The formalities for getting married to a non-Emirati spouse doesn't differ from the ones getting married to an Emirati spouse, except that all necessary documents need to be attested through consulates and the UAE authorities.

The children, born out of these marriages, can obtain the UAE nationality.

So yes, any Emirati man may marry a French lady if he wishes, but of course it is always good that the family is also blessing this marriage and approves it.

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.