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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

My Ramadan: the Emirati who helps host 'Dubai’s most authentic holy month experience'

Rashid Al Tamimi breaks his fast with residents and tourists who are interested in learning more about Emirati culture at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding

Rashid Al Tamimi is the senior presenter and public relations manager at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Rashid Al Tamimi is the senior presenter and public relations manager at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Rashid Al Tamimi spends a lot of his time fielding questions about Ramadan.

The 48 year-old works for the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, which hosts Iftar dinners six days a week for anyone who wants to experience Emirati traditions during the holy month. And a question and answer session with Emiratis like himself is one of the highlights.

He joined the centre three years ago, after starting out as a volunteer while he was still working for Emirates Airline, where he was a senior flight purser and trainer.

“I fell in love with the centre and the whole atmosphere from when I was younger. We used to come and walk in this area with our grandfather,” he says.

The centre, located in the historical Al Fahidi district, aims to raise awareness of UAE culture and customs, and is open all year round. But Ramadan is a particularly special time as the centre opens its doors for its famous Iftars, which are so popular that people from around the world book many months in advance.

The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in Bastikiya. Dubai Tourism
The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in Bastikiya. Dubai Tourism

“We have people who start booking from September – six, seven, eight months ahead,” says Mr Al Tamimi.

Described as Dubai’s most authentic Ramadan experience, the centre’s iftar dinners are hosted in the organisation’s wind-tower house. The evening begins at the call of prayer with Arabic coffee and dates. After prayer time, attendees are served a range of Emirati dishes, while Mr Al Tamimi and his fellow Emirati hosts field questions.

“Our motto is open door, open minds. There are no stupid questions,” says Mr Al Tamimi, who is from Dubai.

“When someone asks me, why are all the ladies wearing black? Why are they covering up. I say to them, hold on, don’t you know the history? Didn’t you see Mary, mother of Jesus, and you only see her face and her hands out? She is a Jew. That was the only colour that was available and it was the only colour that wasn’t transparent. That’s why they wore it. The covering is tradition. It’s not religion.”

Other popular questions include why Muslims can take up to four wives and whether they pray more during Ramadan, he says.

“We are there for them to answer any question,” he adds.

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Ramadan 2018 series:

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Sports in Ramadan: 'I'm tough with the guys and can yell in their faces' says superfit Emirati coach

Mosques of the UAE: 100-year-old place of worship has stood the test of time

Midnight in Ramadan: The radio station that comes alive at night

Ramadan business: How Middle East advertisers are making Ramadan their Super Bowl

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After Iftar, guests visit the the nearby Diwan mosque.

“We give them the basics of Islam. I do the call of the prayer, even though I am not a religious scholar, and I explain it to them,” says Mr Al Tamimi.

“When they understand the call to prayer, they know the basics of the religion and they realise that Judaism, Christianity and Islam came from the same God. They are like ‘wow’”.

During Ramadan, day turns into night for Mr Al Tamimi, whose shifts at the centre are generally in the evenings for the Iftar dinners.

But he still has occasional work engagements outside, which are at this time of year usually interviews explaining more about Ramadan.

“Tomorrow I am going to go to Pearl FM. I will be live at 3pm, so sometimes I work even earlier. Yesterday I was on DubaiEye speaking in the early morning about Ramadan,” he says.

“It is special when people hear you live on the radio. I get a big sense of satisfaction. A lot of them say thank you, and they shake your hand,” he says.

For Mr Al Tamimi that is what it is all about – informing people and making them feel as welcome as possible in his country.

“We want them to feel part of the community,” he says.