May 19, 2019 / 3:11 PM / 5 months ago

Curious foreigners get rare chance to sample Emirati culture

DUBAI (Reuters) - No question was off limits for curious tourists and foreign residents of Dubai wanting to learn more about Emirati culture and the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Foreign visitors and residents in the UAE eat an Emirati Iftar meal during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, at Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) in Dubai, UAE May 17, 2019. REUTERS/Satish Kumar

Emiratis make up less than 10% of those living in Dubai, the most populated emirate in the seven-emirate United Arab Emirates federation, making it hard for foreigners to meet them.

Dubai goes to great lengths to market itself as open to different cultures and faiths as the Middle East’s financial, trade and leisure center, and a government cultural center is inviting visitors to find out more about Emirati life.

“There are no offending questions,” said Emirati Rashid al-Tamimi from the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding.

“How do you worship, what is the mosque, why do you wear white, why do women wear black ... is everybody rich in this country?”

Emirati volunteers gathered at a majlis - the traditional sitting room where the end-of-fast iftar meal is served at floor-level - were asked about dating and marriage, what they think of Dubai’s comparatively liberal dress codes for foreigners, and aspects of the Muslim faith.

“We learn from them, they learn from us. (Foreigners) have been here a long time and I feel they see themselves as Emiratis, and we are proud that they do so,” said Majida al-Gharib a student volunteer.

Visitors broke the day’s fast with dates and water, before sampling Emirati cuisine, including biryani and machboos rice and meat dishes.

Seven-year-old Anthony from Poland, who goes to school in Dubai, said he came to find out more about the breaking of the fast meal because many of his friends at school do it.

2019 has been designated the Year of Tolerance in the United Arab Emirates and there is a minister of state for tolerance. However, like its Gulf Arab neighbors, the UAE does not allow dissent or criticism of its leadership.

Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Alison Williams

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