The Sheikh Muhammad Centre for Cultural Understanding is a non-profit organisation designed to enlighten those on a Dubai holiday about all things UAE. In a modest collection of low-rise buildings a few blocks back from Dubai Creek, this unique social resource offers eye-opening insights into life, love and history in this desert kingdom.
Via informal conversations with local social ambassadors, guests to these unique hosted afternoons are encouraged to ask hard-hitting questions. The desired outcome is for hosts and guests alike to leave with a more realistic representation of each other’s culture. The mantra here is a fitting ‘Open doors, open minds.’
To get a real taste of Dubai, a traditional domestic meal accompanies proceedings, starting with Arabic coffee infused with saffron and cardamom – an authentic household welcome. The food is arranged at floor level and we sit around the colourful display on comfy two-tier cushions. The rice-based meat and vegetable dishes are hearty and delicious, and the donut-style dough balls with sticky date sauce are an absolute revelation.
After the food the discussion heats up. One visitor wants to know if Emirati women feel like second-class citizens because they don’t receive an education. Our hostess quickly dispels the myth by explaining she is currently a university undergraduate in Business Studies.
Topics range from dating, marriage, paternal protection, old Dubai’s Bedouin past and modern Dubai’s global reputation as a jetsetter’s paradise. The recent surge in the Dubai holiday industry isn’t universally appreciated among the older generation, it seems.
When talking about traditional Emirati dress our group leader is asked why the male ‘kandura’ is white and the female ‘abaya’ is black. Her answer holds a mirror back to Western society: Why are your jeans blue, she says.
Don’t forget to tune in next week for the concluding part of our Culture & Cuisine in Dubai series.