x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Non-Muslims can date – just respect our customs

The boyfriend-girlfriend philosophy doesn’t really exist here

Dear Ali: I understand that marriage is important in the culture of the Gulf. But how are non-Muslim expats supposed to get married if they can’t date? SB, Abu Dhabi

Dear SB: Who says they can’t date? You are allowed to date; however, you should respect the guidelines and traditions of the place where you live.

In the Gulf region, for example, dating is far different in Dubai compared to Saudi Arabia.

In Dubai, dating is common and you can see men and women on dates in the malls or in restaurants. In Saudi, however, there are laws forbidding a woman from standing next to a man.

If you live in the Kingdom, dating is forbidden in public for both locals and expats.

But if you dated someone in your expat compound, nobody would know and, even if they did know, it would be OK because you are in a designated area. In other regions, almost everybody is aware about dating.

Dating rules vary from community to community. It is not just Muslims who have conservative views about dating. And dating rules vary from workplace to workplace; some allow interoffice romance, others do not.

But remember that the boyfriend-girlfriend philosophy doesn’t really exist here. It’s fine to go for coffee or dinner with someone from the opposite sex, but strictly speaking anything beyond that that goes on in public is illegal.

I know dating web sites are a popular way for people to meet up in many Western countries. They are blocked by our Government because they are often used to promote pornography or prostitution.

Dear Ali: Would you happen to know what Doha, the capital of Qatar, means? GT, Qatar

Dear GT: A very good question, indeed. A lot of our Gulf cities have beautiful and interesting meanings behind them.

Take, for example, the name Abu Dhabi, which means “father of the gazelle”.

Doha takes its name from its geographical surroundings and how it looks, because Doha means “circle” or any object or scene that has the shape of a circle.

And if you haven’t already noticed, the capital of Qatar looks like a half-circle shape when you view it from top or even on the ground by the Corniche.

What’s really interesting, though, is that Doha is not the only place that has that name.

In every single Gulf country there is a “Doha”, but it’s followed by the area name, for example the Doha Rahoom in Saudi Arabia or Doha Gudhaibiyah in Bahrain.

The reason Doha is more well-known, obviously, because it’s the capital, but also because it’s the embodiment of the geographical shape.

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

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