“Open doors. Open Minds”. That’s the motto of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU), but might as well be the one of Dubai itself, a Muslim emirate where approximately 13% of Emiratis live in perfect harmony with 87% of foreigners with a completely different set of cultures and habits.
And it doesn’t stop there! As we previously said in the article about the SMCCU, Dubai’s government does its best to educate visitors and expatriates about local culture and the historical roots behind them in the “Ask whatever you want without fear of offending anyone” environment of the Center – one of the our favorite activities in Dubai.
Imagine our surprise when we received an invitation to attend a lecture by SMCCU in Sao Paulo, Brazil! Yup! As part of the efforts for cultural understanding, the Department of Tourism Commerce and Marketing of Dubai organized a lecture for the press with a volunteer from the Center in Sao Paulo! Obviously, our Brazilian team was there to check it out!
The meeting took place in Espaço Iate Clube de Santos, in the Higienopolis neighbourhood. The French classical architecture mansion is surrounded by an amazing garden with trees that have been there for over a century. Add that up with some wonderful winter sun in the morning, and the setting was perfect for the brunch of Arabic specialties – as babaganoush, hummus, labneh, couscous, etc … – served before the event.
And how was the lecture?
Like they all are at the Cultural Center! Not quite a lecture, but a funny, educational and enlightening chat. Running the show was Mr. Abdulla Al Hussam, who graciously answered all the questions from the audience. You want to know the highlights of what was asked and said? Check below!
- The Brazilian Jiu-Jistu is gaining many supporters in Dubai and is viewed with such sympathy by the government that it will become part of the training in military service;
- The income from oil now accounts for less than 5% of the total income of the Emirate;
- Muslim women have fundamental rights guaranteed in marriage, among them: the right to dowry (which guarantees their livelihood throughout life), the right to keep all the money they earn (is the man’s responsability to support his wife, home and children), the right to education and the right to divorce;
- Yes, men can marry up to four wives, BUT, they are required to treat all of them equally. Same benefits, same material goods, same amount of dedication. The most interesting thing is to understand the historical root behind marrying more than one woman. In times of war, with high rates of death among men and, of course, fathers, many women and children found themselves in an underprivileged situation. To marry a second (third or fourth) wife meant taking care of another family. Today, less than 2% of marriages in Dubai have a second wife;
- Today, 80% of young female Emiratis pursue a higher education degree;
- Why do many women cover themselves with the Abaya (well sort of light cloth robe) black? Remember that the UAE, about 50/60 years ago, was very poor. Women had one or two dresses and therefore covered their clothes when going out to better preserve them. What’s the best color to not show any damage? Black. Today, what is the best color to look slimmer and elegant? Black;
- It is true that you cannot be gay in Dubai? Wrong. What you can’t do – and that goes for heterosexual couples – is kissing on the lips and other such things in public. As Mr. Abdulla explained, in Dubai men greet each other with kisses on the cheek and walk hand in hand. Bedouins used to greet touching noses! What in the Emirate is considered a natural behavior among men, in Brazil would be seen as strange. So walking down the street in Dubai, no one can say if you are gay or not;
- Dubai is a super safe city (those who follow our website knew that already!) for men and women. Indeed, it is so safe that the government is having to campaign so that people don’t leave their possessions scattered around. There are people that, while sitting in a cafe, go to the bathroom and leave their laptop and cell phone on the table. There are others who leave the car running, unattended, as they go buy something at a store just to keep the cold air from the air conditioning in the vehicle. The sense of security is so great that people become careless (which, let’s face it, no one should do!);
- The Uber already works in Dubai (and has super cars in its fleet !!!);
- Crossfit is a trend in the Emirate;
- The courtship between young Muslims happens, of course, but with the knowledge of the two families and never behind closed doors. The Emiratis get to know each other in the workplace, at school or even through “blind dates” (you know when your friend says he has an amazing friend to introduce you? It’s the same thing). When a boy and a girl are interested in each other, they arrange a meeting between families and, from then on, begin a public courtship to get to know each other better. And if it’s not meant to be, there is no crisis!
As we said before, the coolest thing about the talks in the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding is that, as the group of visitors changes at every presentation, the questions raised are always different. Every time we went there we came out with new information. Do not miss this precious opportunity to know more about the culture and history of Dubai during your visit to the Emirate!