x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Ask Ali: On alcohol and Arab views on body art

On meeting friends where alcohol is served and Arab views on body art.

Ask Ali

On meeting friends where alcohol is served and Arab views on body art

Dear Ali: When I asked my UAE national friend to join me for coffee at our usual hangout he said he couldn't go there because it had started serving alcohol. We have had lunch at hotels that serve alcohol, so I was wondering what the difference is? JC, Abu Dhabi

Dear JC: When I hear about situations such as yours, sometimes I wonder if we have overextended our Arab hospitality. Our government shows its openness and acceptance of other religions by allowing all believers to practise their religion freely. The government also shows its openness in respecting our visitors' cultures by allowing alcohol in hotels. Now, I wonder if the future will be booze in every restaurant.

Did you know that, even today, it is haram for a Muslim to be in a place that serves alcohol? Many Emiratis still believe this, so your newly licensed hangout has effectively barred those who feel this way from entering.

Don't get me wrong, I have held meetings in restaurants that serve alcohol. (I pray that God will forgive me). I have even been with expatriates who ordered drinks. These are not comfortable situations, but they are part of doing business.

Also, these establishments were in hotels.The difference between hotels and the restaurant you mentioned is that hotels are multi-functional. Hotels have restaurants, spas, gyms and shops. We have many reasons to be there, whether we drink or not. A restaurant has only one function, to eat; now it has two, with the introduction of alcohol. We are rather conspicuous, and it's easier to lose face if another local sees you there.

But the real disappointment in this licensing business is that many of these establishments are making it appear that they want our business. Some even drop "wine" or "beer" from their names, so as not to offend. Locals have flocked to one place I frequented because of its Islam-friendly menu. Now that it serves alcohol, I feel a bit jilted. It's as if I were being used until it got its licence.

I understand a lot of profit is made from alcohol, and I don't begrudge the owners that money. I just think more cultural sensitivity should be shown to Muslims. There is even a mosque across the road from the restaurant I went to. I know because I pray there. It's also close to a residential area and to some governmental buildings.

A better plan would be to open another place at a hotel, where alcohol is expected.

Dear Ali: What is the Islamic view of tattoos? Where in the UAE can I get one? JJ, Vancouver

Dear JJ: Tattoos are unlawful in Islam. They are frowned upon in Arab culture and not appreciated in Gulf societies and are even illegal in some places.

I'm not a big fan of them and am not in a position to promote tattoo parlours in my country. But if you google "tattoos in the UAE" you might find some leads.

If you are set on getting a tattoo, do it outside the UAE. Ensure it doesn't show easily on uncovered areas of your body such as your arms, face or the back of your legs. But bear in mind that if you get a tattoo in a more hidden area, it still isn't cool to reveal your body to a stranger.Language lesson

Arabic: Hayyakum Allah (plural of Hayak Allah)

English: May God greet you

This is a familiar expression to every local ear. "Hayyakum Allah" is a classic Arabic phrase, literally meaning "May Allah greet you on the day of judgment". The expression is used as a welcoming note to whomever arrives at your home or office, but is said more often when someone is leaving. It's a perfect good-bye, implying that the visitor has bid you farewell from his arms into Allah's.