Culture of the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a diverse society.[1] The country's historical population as a small tribal community has been changed with the arrival of other nationals, at first by Iranians and also from other Arab countries in the 1950s and 1963 [2] Furthermore, the country was a part of the British Empire up until 1971.[3]

The influence architecture, music, attire, cuisine, and lifestyle are very prominent as well. Five times every day, Muslims are called to prayer from the minarets of mosques, which are scattered around the country.[4] The weekend begins on Friday due to Friday being the holiest day for Muslims. Most Muslim countries have a Friday-Saturday or Thursday-Friday weekend.[5]

The city of Al Ain in Abu Dhabi is a UNESCO World Heritage site.[6] In 1998, The Emirate of Sharjah was named by the UNESCO 'The Cultural capital of the Arab World' in 1998 and the 'capital of Islamic culture for 2014' by the OIC.[7]

Emirati people[edit]

A dallah is a traditional Arabic coffee pot for serving Arabian coffee. It is a symbol of the Emirati culture, featuring on the United Arab Emirates dirham coin

Emirati culture is based on Arabian culture and has been heavily influenced by Persian culture. Arabian and Persian inspired architecture is part of the expression of the local Emirati identity.[8] Persian influence on Emirati culture is noticeably visible in traditional Emirati architecture and folk arts.[9] For example, the "barjeel" has become an identifying mark of traditional Emirati architecture and is attributed to Persian influence.[9] Certain folk dances, such as "al-habban", are originally Persian.[9] Local Emirati culture has also been influenced by the cultures of East Africa and Indian Subcontinent.[9]

Due to growth in trade, expatriates from over 200 nationalities came to the UAE seeking better lives and higher-income jobs.[10]

The UAE has been criticized for perpetuating a class-based society, where migrant workers are in the lower classes.[11][12] Despite the diversity of the population, only minor and infrequent episodes of ethnic tensions, primarily between expatriates, have been reported in the city. Major holidays in Dubai include Eid ul-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, and National Day (2 December), which marks the formation of the United Arab Emirates.[13]

The population as a whole is estimated by the U.S. State Department to be at 9 million people, with only 15–20% of these being citizens. The population growth rate is 4% per year. The primary religion in the United Arab Emirates is Islam, with the population estimated to be 96% Muslim. Hinduism and Christianity are minorities as stated by the United States State Department. The official language is Arabic. Other languages such as English, Persian, Hindi and Urdu are spoken among the different people. The U.S. State Department estimates the people of the UAE to have an average life expectancy of seventy-seven years.


The word Emirati is an English derived from a combination of the word emir, which is an Islamic leader, and the English suffix -ate. It gradually came to mean United Arab Emirates. The demonym Emirian has a similar root from except with the suffix -ian being added to emir. Rarer Emirian demonyms and adjectives include Emiri and Emiratian, both of which are unofficial and informal alternates.[14] However, due to strong tribal allegiances, many Emiratis also self-identify by their tribal affiliations, whereby some Emiratis may call themselves a "Bani Yasi", "Suwaidi" or an "al-Shamsi", especially if they come from an influential tribe.[citation needed] Historically, Emiratis were called Trucial Coasters[15] or Trucials in the medieval era.[16] In the ancient period, Emiratis were referred to as Maganites or Maganis.[17]


Sheikh Maktoum house courtyard featuring the common architecture of wind-catchers called Barjeel.

The United Arab Emirate's architecture is inspired by Islamic architecture, Arabian architecture and Persian architecture. Arabian and Persian inspired architecture is part of the expression of the local Emirati identity.[8] For example, the "barjeel" has become an identifying mark of traditional Emirati architecture and is attributed to Persian influence.[9]

Emirati architecture reflects the traditional lifestyles and customs of the people. Building materials are simple, but well-adapted to local living and climatic circumstances. Portable tents traditionally provided shelter during tribal wanderings in the winter season. Inland more permanent houses were built of stone guss and were roofed with palm trees leaves. Fossilized coral, cut in blocks, bonded with sarooj, or a lime mixture derived from seashells, and plastered with chalk and water paste, was used extensively in coastal regions. Privacy and ventilation were important influences in the UAE.


Many of the older Emirati men prefer wearing the traditional Emirati clothes, such as the kandura, an ankle-length white shirt woven from wool or cotton while many local women wear an abaya, a black over-garment, and "shiela" or headscarf.[18] On average a UAE male national would have up to 50 kanduras as they keep changing their clothing to ensure the dress being kept clean.[19] This attire is particularly well-suited for the UAE's hot and dry climate. Western-style clothing is also fairly popular, especially among the Emirati youth and expats.

Etiquette is an important aspect of UAE culture and tradition, and whilst in the UAE, visitors are expected to show appropriate manners and etiquette. There have been several recent cases of expatriates not respecting the laws and being arrested. For example, there have been instances of expats for inappropriate clothes, and some even being completely without clothes.[20]

Traditional Food[edit]

The Emirati food consists of a mixture between a bedouins diet, which consist of meat and camel milk, fishermen's diet, which consists mainly of fish common in the Persian gulf, and farmers diet, which mainly consists of dates. A blend of the following diets as well as a mixture of spices such as cinnamon, saffron, and turmeric formed the basis of the common dishes that was consumed in the Trucial states region and the current traditional Emirati cuisine.[21]

The traditional food of the United Arab Emirates uses a lot of meat, grain, and dairy. Vegetables are easy to grow such as cucumbers and tomatoes in fertile soil, and are strongly featured in the diet. Dried lemons, called loomi, are also heavily featured, grown locally, and used in most dishes. Mangos are also grown usually in the northern emirates in villages such as Masafi. Meats traditionally used are chicken or small fowl, such as Houbara bustards, and goats. As camels are highly prized for their milk and transporting ability, the eating of camel meat is normally reserved for special occasions.

There are a lot of known dishes in the UAE, for example: Harees, Machboos and Luqemat. Common middle eastern cuisine is also widely available. Due to the cosmopolitan nature of the United Arab Emirates, the most popular street-side snack is the middle eastern Shawarma.[22]


Some peculiar cultural traits that are not found elsewhere include the khusmak, a specifically Emirati kiss whereby Emirati men greet one another by touching one anothers nose. This is due to the nose being seen as a noble bodily feature. Some expats accuse Emiratis of being more social amongst themselves rather than with others, but Emiratis view this as being a modus operandi that allows them to avoid forgetting their culture.[23]

Women greet each other by shaking hands and kissing on the cheek.

Literature and poetry[edit]

The main themes in Emirati poetry for Arab poets range from satire, chivalry, self-praise, patriotism, religion, family, and love, could range from descriptive to narrative.

Poetry in the United Arab Emirates has a great influence on culture, being an Arab country in the Persian Gulf where poetry has been part of since the dawn of time. The style and form of ancient poetry in the UAE was strongly influenced by the 8th-century Arab scholar, Al Khalil bin Ahmed. This form underwent slight modification (Al Muwashahat) during the period of Islamic civilization in Andalucia (Spain), where "the line or bait adhered to the two hemistitches form, each with an equal number of feet, all the second hemistitches ending in the same rhyming letter and sound throughout the poem". The indigenous Arabic poetry form, however, was not spared from western influence; sometime in the 20th century, prose poetry started to make their way into the local literary scene.

Ibn Majid, who was born between 1432 and 1437 in Ras Al Khaimah was an iconic poet. Coming from a family of successful sailors, Ibn Majid has a total of 40 surviving compositions, 39 of which are verses.

The greatest luminaries in the UAE literary realm during the 20th century, particularly for Classical Arabic poetry, were Mubarak Al Oqaili (1880–1954), Salem bin Ali al Owais (1887–1959), and Ahmed bin Sulayem (1905–1976). Three other poets from Sharjah, known as the Hirah group, also thrived during the 20th century including Khalfan Musabah (1923–1946), Sheikh Saqr Al Qasimi (1925–1993), an ex-ruler of Sharjah, and Sultan bin Ali al Owais (1925–2000). Rashid Abdullah Al Nuaimi (1937-) wrote Shahenda, the first Emirati novel.[24] The Hirah group's works are observed to have been heavily influenced by the Apollo and romantic poets.[25]

Nujoom Al-Ghanem, Ousha Al Sha'er, Khalid Albudoor, Aisha Al Kaabi, are amongst the most recognized figures in the Emirati contemporary literature scene.

Music and dance[edit]

The United Arab Emirates is a part of the Arab khaleeji tradition. Yowla is a type of music and dance performed mainly in communities of Bantu people from the African Great Lakes region.[25] During celebrations singing and dancing also took place and many of the songs and dances, handed down from generation to generation, have survived to the present time. Young girls would dance by swinging their long hair and swaying their bodies in time to the strong beat of the music. Men would re-enact battles fought or successful hunting expeditions, often symbolically using sticks, swords, or rifles. Hollywood and Bollywood movies are popular in Dubai. The UAE has an active music scene, with international touring musicians such as Amr Diab, Diana Haddad, Tarkan, Aerosmith, Santana, Mark Knopfler, Elton John, Pink, Bon Jovi, Pink Floyd, Shakira, Celine Dion, Coldplay, Linkin Park, Zayn Malik, Slipknot, and Phil Collins having performed in the country. Kylie Minogue was paid $4.4 million dollars to perform at the opening of the Atlantis resort on November 20, 2008. The Abu Dhabi Festival has been held annually since 2004.


Football is the most popular sport in the UAE. Emirati football clubs Al-Ain, Al-Wasl, Al-Shabbab ACD, Al-Sharjah, Al-Wahda, and Al-Ahli are the most popular teams and enjoy the reputation of long-time regional champions.[26] The great rivalries keep the streets of the UAE energized as people fill the streets when their favorite team wins. The UAE national football team qualified for the FIFA World Cup in 1990 with Egypt. It was the third consecutive World Cup with two Arab nations qualifying, after Kuwait and Algeria in 1982, and Iraq and Algeria again in 1986.[27] The UAE also recently won the Arabian Gulf Cup held in Abu Dhabi in January 2007.[28]

Cricket is one of the most popular sports in the UAE, largely due to the expatriate population from the Indian subcontinent. In UAE There are 3 International Cricket stadiums in UAE. They have held many international cricket matches such as one T-20, 2014 IPL, and many more.

The UAE is fast becoming the capital of Brazilian jiu-jitsu or Jiu Jitsu in the world. It's a martial art with a focus in grappling and submissions. The national team, adults and particularly the juveniles/teen frequently compete and win events both locally and internationally. The apex of the sport is at the annual World Pro Abu Dhabi where hundreds of competitors from across the world compete for large cash prizes and to be crowned the World Pro champion across different belts and weight divisions. It is also part of the government school curriculum in the emirate of Abu Dhabi with thousands of boys and girls taking part from grade 6 and upwards. There is also another famous sport of UAE using horses called equestrian sport.

Other popular sports include camel racing, car racing, falconry, endurance riding, and tennis.[29]

Magazines on Culture in the UAE[edit]

  • The Vision (magazine) is a Dubai-based Magazine presenting Dubai’s perspective on Culture, Art, Music, Business and Life in the Emirate.[30]
  • Brownbook, based in Dubai, is an urban lifestyle guide focusing on art,basil, design, and travel across the Middle East and North Africa.[31]
  • Canvas is an international bi-monthly magazine dedicated to art and culture from the Middle East and Arab world.[32]
  • Bidoun covers art and culture from the Middle East.[33]


Date English Arabic
January 1 New Year's Day Ra's as-Sana al-meladiah رأس السنة الميلادية
Zil Hajjah 10 Day of the Sacrifice Eid-ul-Adha عيد الأضحى
Muharram 1 Islamic New Year Ra's as-Sana al-Hijria رأس السنة الهجرية
Rajab 27 The Night Journey Al-Isra'a wal-Mi'raj الإسراء والمعراج
December 2   National Day Yawm al watani اليوم الوطني
Ramadan 29/30 Shawwal 1 End of Ramadan Eid-ul-Fitr عيد الفطر

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Country and Metropolitan Stats in Brief. MPI Data Hub
  2. ^ "Negotiating Change: The New Politics of the Middle East". Jeremy Jones. 2007. pp. 184–186.
  3. ^ "Sun sets on British Empire as UAE raises its flag".
  4. ^ "UAE Culture". 2000-06-01. Archived from the original on July 19, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
  5. ^ Advanced Digital Technology "New UAE Weekend". Gulfnews. Archived from the original on 2009-02-21. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
  6. ^ Al Ain, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  7. ^ "Culture - The Official Portal of UAE Government". Retrieved 2016-06-30.
  8. ^ a b Handbook of Islamic Marketing. p. 430. Arabian and Persian inspired architecture is part of the expression of a local identity.
  9. ^ a b c d e Folklore and Folklife in the United Arab Emirates. p. 167.
  10. ^ Chaudhary, Suchitra (28 May 2016). "What makes UAE a role model of cohesion". GulfNews. Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  11. ^ Gfs The Dark Side of Dubai, Johann Hari, The Independent, 7 April 2009.
  12. ^ Template:Cite webhhgddhgdhydgxgufkuyfkuyfkuh
  13. ^ "Official holidays in UAE". Archived from the original on 2009-02-08. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
  14. ^ Douglas, Allen (1994). Arab comic strips. p. 150.
  15. ^ Winder, Bayly (1965). Saudi Arabia in the Nineteenth Century. p. 33.
  16. ^ Unexceptional: America's Empire in the Persian Gulf, 1941-2007, Marc J. O'Reilly, page 66
  17. ^ Curtiss, Richard H. "The United Arab Emirates Today: Long UAE Archeological Record Shows Links to Earliest Civilizations." The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs 14.5 (1995): 56.
  18. ^ "Clothing in the UAE". Archived from the original on 2009-03-31. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
  19. ^ "UAE National Dress".
  20. ^ "Blame Europeans for topless displays, British women say". Gulfnews. Archived from the original on 2009-06-20. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
  21. ^ Dubai Complete Residents' Guide. Explorer Publishing. 30 November 2006. p. 29. ISBN 9768182768.
  22. ^ Jenny Walker; Terry Carter; Lara Dunston (2007). Oman, UAE & Arabian Peninsula. Lonely Planet. pp. 381–. ISBN 978-1-74104-546-8.
  23. ^ Abed, Ibrahem (2001). United Arab Emirates: A New Perspective. p. 114.
  24. ^ "Winners of Emirates Novel Award honoured". Retrieved 2018-11-28.
  25. ^ a b "Welcome to Abu Dhabi – Literature and Poetry". 2009-07-01. Archived from the original on March 21, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
  26. ^ "Clubs, Sports Clubs UAE United Arab Emirates". Archived from the original on 2009-07-17. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
  27. ^ "UAE – The Official Web Site – News". Retrieved 2009-07-15.
  28. ^ "Gulf Cup 2007". Gulfnews. Archived from the original on 2007-03-18. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
  29. ^ "UAE Sports". Archived from the original on July 27, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
  30. ^ "Vision Magazine".
  31. ^ "Brownbook Magazine Homepage". Retrieved 24 May 2010.
  32. ^ "Canvas Online". Retrieved 24 May 2010.
  33. ^ * Bidoun Archived 2010-05-24 at the Wayback Machine