Historically, Dubai was a small settlement, built on local fishing, pearl and oil industries. Today, it is a vibrant business and tourist mecca, attracting more than 10 million tourists each year.
With the wide variety of spectacular attractions on offer – everything from indoor snow skiing to expansive water parks – it’s easy to overlook the humbler history, traditions and religion of Dubai.
But if you dig a little deeper, and take the time to experience traditional Emirati culture, your family will be a lot richer for it. You may even be surprised by what you learn.
Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, Dubai
Dubai is one of seven emirates which makes up the United Arab Emirates, and is ruled by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Sheikh Mohammed saw the need to reach out to expatriates and visitors of the United Arab Emirates to demystify the local culture and promote cross-cultural understanding.
In 1998, the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) was born, and it has been offering a range of programs ever since, including traditional meals, heritage tours, Arabic language classes and mosque visits.
We were invited to attend the Cultural Breakfast at the SMCCU, which is located in the historic Al Fahidi District, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Bur Dubai.
Over a delicious meal; including sweet dumplings served with date syrup, Arabic coffee and scrambled eggs with chickpeas and flat bread, we listed to our Emirati host talk about her daily life as a local living in Dubai.
The best part of this was the opportunity to ask questions and hear her perspective in the answers. I left feeling that Dubai was an incredible success story – a city that is able to retain its traditional way of life, yet fully engage in the modern world, and practise tolerance towards people of all religions and nationalities. It is a modern and safe city where locals, expats and tourists live in harmony with each other, despite their very different approaches to life.
More cultural experiences for families in Dubai
As well as a visit to the SMCCU, we can recommend the following experiences for families wanting to experience the fascinating history and culture of Dubai and the Emirati people:
- Dubai Museum – the museum is located in the Al Fahidi Fort, which is the oldest building still standing in Dubai. There are local antiquities on display, as well as artifacts from African and Asian countries that traded with Dubai. It also provides detail about the fishing and pearling days of Dubai, and the discovery of oil.
- Spice, Gold and Textile Souks – souks are traditional Arabian markets which still trade today, and are open to tourists that are looking for a bargain. There are beautiful hand-woven fabrics, traditional oud fragrances, gold and exotic spices. Even if you don’t intend on buying anything, it is fun to walk through and watch customers and shopkeepers haggling over prices.
- Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) – the DDCR is the United Arab Emirates’ first national park and is home to a variety of flora and fauna including camels, oryx and gazelles. The desert, which is as old as time itself, can be experienced by families in a number of ways, including an Arabian Adventures Desert Safari, or a Hot Air Balloon ride.
- Jumeriah Mosque – this is the only mosque in Dubai that is open to the public. There are tours of the mosque available six days per week (book through the SMCCU) and children enter for free. Modest dress is preferred, but you can borrow traditional attire from the Mosque.
For more information about the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, or to make a booking, visit www.cultures.ae.