x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

How protocol was observed

Remembering the formalities at the court of Sheikh Shakhbut.

The first time Faraj Ali Bin Hamoodah visited Qasr Al Hosn, he was with his father.

"We received an invitation from Sheikh Shakhbut when he was in Al Muwaiji in Al Ain to come to Al Hosn," says the man who was to become one of Sheikh Zayed's closest advisors. "I was around 9 years old. We travelled from Al Ain to Abu Dhabi by camel. The journey took two days in the winter.

"When I first saw Al Hosn, I was overwhelmed by a sense of awe but not fear. In fact it gave us a sense of security and protection. It was the only building for miles. Abu Dhabi was not built then. There weren't even any streets. Most of the houses in Abu Dhabi were huts, with roofs of palm leaves, and some houses were built from coral.

"When you reached Al Hosn, you stood by the outer gate which was called Al Derwaza, and introduced yourself by 'flan bin flan' to the soldier, who would go inside and ask the permission of Sheikh Shakhbut.

"When he returned he led us in and the sheikh welcomed us. The sheikhs were very familiar with the family trees of the tribes. They knew you by your father, or grandfather's name, by the branch of the family's name - labboogah - then the family's name, and then the tribe.

"There is a certain discipline when you enter the fort. Your posture must be elevated but not in an arrogant way and you cannot sit until the sheikh invites you to, or start a conversation until the sheikh speaks to you. This is the protocol.

"The sheikh greeted us warmly, asking in detail about our journey, family, tribe and all the news of the people in our area. Sheikh Shakhbut was dressed in formal attire. This is how he always was and his presence was regal.

"As with the protocol, there is one for exiting the sheikh's presence and the fort. It was customary for us to stay in the majlis before asking permission from the sheikh to leave by saying: 'Taal amurak, itha ma shy lazim, bnetrakhas?' Meaning: 'May God grant you long life. Can we serve you in any way before we depart?' If the sheikh said: 'No, stay for longer', we would do so. If he no longer required us, he would say: 'Allah eywafegkm', 'May God show you prosperity', and we would leave.

"The sheikhs would always bestow gifts of money to their guests on departure, called 'sharha'. We stayed for three days in the guest rooms outside the gate of the fort.

"People even dressed a certain way to enter Al Hosn or meet sheikhs.

"In the old days the long loose tassel, tarboosh, that is found on the Emirati thobe had to be short, out of tradition. It is only now that fashion dictates it to be longer."

Bin Hamoodah tells another story about a man who entered the majlis wearing sunglasses. "The sheikh welcomed him by saying: 'Please let the blind man rest and have a seat.' Of course the sheikh knew he wasn't blind and would never offend, but it is protocol to make eye contact with him."

When Bin Hamoodah thinks of certain characters who embody protocol these days, he says: "Sheikha Osha bint Shakhbut is the protocol itself, in everything about her presence. And she was the main lady of Al Hosn."