Islam is the official religion and Arabic the official language.
The majority of the local population is Sunni. The communities
have their own schools and social and cultural institutions.
English, Urdu/Hindi and Farsi are also spoken. Traditionally,
the people of Abu Dhabi are courteous, kind and friendly and
quite hospitable both in social matters and in business. Foreigners.
especially tourists and visitors are treated with generosity.
But they in turn are expected to respect local customs, especially
religious practice. and abide by the law of the land. During
Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, non--Muslim foreigners
are expected to refrain from eating. drinking and smoking
in public places during the hours of fasting. In Ramadan official
working hours are reduced. Shops compensate for the loss of
business by staying open longer. The two Eids arc also the
period when many people go abroad for holidays. It is, therefore,
advisable to book flights in and out of the UAE well in advance.
Native menfolk of the Arabian peninsula have a distinct form
of dress. They wear an ankle-length shirt (dishdasha), usually
white (or colored or striped in winter), a white, or sometimes
red-chequered, headcloth (ghutra) and the twisted, black rope
piece (agal), holding the gutra in place. Men of distinction
and the Sheikhs also wear on top of their dishdasha a flowing
cloak (abba or bisht) edged with gold braid. It may he black
or brown. UAE women are very particular about their dress.
They generally cover themselves from head to feet with a black
cloak called the ahaya'.
Reflecting the traditions of the desert, the role of the camel
has been given much attention. Once it carried the people
across the sands, providing at the same time milk, meat and
leather, while its shoulder-blades were used as little 'blackboards'
for children studying. Now proper school equipment is available
from other sources, as is leather, but many local families
still keep a few for meat and for milk. To encourage them
to do so, the government offers subsidies to those who still
keep this noble and historic beast of burden. The camel will
more easily be noticed by the visitor, however, during the
great camel races held in various locations throughout the
country in the winter months, when owners from the Emirates
and the rest of Arabia pit their fastest steeds one against
the other. The major festivals attract many hundreds of camels
to compete for prizes that total several million dollars.
The top steeds can each fetch well over a million dollars.
Camel-racing has become one of the country's most popular
Another tradition that has taken on new life in the years
since the UAE was established is that of boat racing, now
given substantial encouragement by the government in the form
of handsome cash prizes. Two kinds of boats are used. The
first is powered by a single sail that catches the wind to
drive wooden boats of shallow draught fast across the surface
of the sea. A couple of dozen such sailing boats scudding
across the waves, their sails shining in the sun, is one of
the most romantic sights to be seen anywhere. The other boats
are powered by men, not the wind, great rowing boats of 20
meters or more in length, rowed by up to a hundred oarsmen
straining every muscle to reach the finishing line. Boat races
are held on special occasions throughout the year, to commemorate
events such as the annual National Day holiday, and have proved
a popular attraction for visitors, while, at the same time,
keeping alive the maritime traditions of the UAE's sturdy
More of an individual sport is that of falconry, whose origins
among the Arabs date back many centuries, and are lost in
the mists of time. Flying Saker or peregrine falcons prized
for their strength or speed, the people of the Emirates practiced
falconry in the past not merely as a sport but as a way of
providing a useful supplement to their diet, or a tasty hare,
or a well-fed bustard. Today, it is purely a sport. and one
which is popular from the highest to the lowest in the land.
Like other hinters, however, the people of the Emirates are
concerned with the need to) understand and protect the environment,
and the quarry which they hunt, lest it disappears.
FOLK MUSIC AND DANCE
Folk dances and music are integral to any celebration. Most
dances are male-oriented. Everybody present at a joyous occasion
is expected to join in. Dancers sway together in a line or
a circle or clapping to the accompaniment of tambourines of
various sizes, with rings or bells attached. Drums are an
integral part of classical and folk music. A popular dance
for females has young girls in flowing black tresses swing
their heads in a hypnotic, undulating movement. Many popular
songs are sung on special occasion. Both music and words,
usually of a bedu dialect, are simply composed. The wedding
provide the most popular occasions for traditional dancing.
Dance groups may begin performing a week or more before the
event. Most wedding music and dance is of local origin but
some brought by immigrants have also been absorbed into the
folklore. At functions attended by local dignitaries and state
guests a particular folksong - the Ayyalah - is performed.
This is basically developed from a war song whose purpose
was to raise the morale of the fighting men