x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Ask Ali: On Islamophobia among expats and ghutra designs

Ali Alsaloom says education is the key to improving understanding between cultures.

Dear Ali: I was born and raised in Canada but my parents are Lebanese and I am a Muslim. I recently joined an online forum to learn more about Abu Dhabi but I was disappointed to read Islamophobic posts by people living in the UAE. Why would expats come to a country to make a living if they are repulsed by the culture and religion? GS, Canada

Dear GS: I suppose these types of conversations, sadly, are part of the nature of religious debates. But the majority of Islamophobia in the world is not coming from expats who already live in Muslim countries. Rather it comes from those who don't venture beyond their own borders.

I have a lot of expatriate friends and they all love, accept, understand and appreciate our part of the world, and this is what you should focus on. There are many westerners who were born and raised in the UAE, and we even have second-generation expats such as our friends from India and the Philippines. We have more than 100,000 British residents and many of them are second-generation, too.

We even have British and other expats who have lived here almost since the country was formed, and they still choose to stay here rather than go back home. To me, that suggests that Islamophobia is not linked to a specific region such as the West or to a group such as the expat community in the Emirates but that it's more of an individual fear that stems from ignorance.

We can all do our part to educate others and improve understanding between us.

Dear Ali: Why is the dominant design of men's head scarves around the Gulf the red and white plaid? Other than plain white, I never see men wear any other colour. What is the origin of this design. TM, Abu Dhabi

Dear TM: Take one look at my picture above and you'll see that not all Arab men in the region dress the same! But many do.

A long time ago when the population of the Arabian peninsula was a fraction of what it is today, most people lived in what is now Yemen, Oman, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. These countries were greatly influenced by the Turks, North Africans, Syrians and Jordanians.

Most Bedouins who lived in the deserts of Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan were familiar with or wore something called a "hattah", or ghutra-like head covering. This cloth protected from the sun's heat, and had little to do with style.

Most Arabs were also aware of the "tarboosh", a red cap worn in the Maghreb and adopted by the Turks. You know, the one with the little black tassel on the top.

While it might come as a surprise, these caps are what inspired the red ghutra. The tarboosh, after all, is small and offers poor protection from our hot climate. Imagine how a Bedouin would have looked with a tarboosh on his head, his falcon on his arm and a saluki running alongside - not cool at all.

Red also was the official colour of Jordan's army, and if you go to museums here and take a look at old pictures of UAE army officers, you'll see them wearing a shirt and trousers - and a ghutra on their heads!

Red, along with green and black, has also become associated with many Arab countries and our ceremonial events, and stirs patriotism throughout the Arab world. Countries across much of the region share these colours in their flags, just like we share the colours of our ghutras - well, except me!


Language lesson

Arabic: Gahfiya

English: Cap

The gahfiya is the cap worn underneath a ghutra so that the scarf doesn't slip off. Basically, it creates some friction and holds everything in place. If you've misplaced your gahfiya, you can say, "Wain gahfiytee?", which is Arabic for, "Where is my gahfiya?"