More than twenty years ago, the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) was set-up to bridge the cultural gap between the local community and the estimated 200 nationalities living and working in the UAE.
According to the organization’s Senior Cultural Presenter, Rashid Al Tamimi, the centre was one of the first establishments to encourage non-Muslims to tour the local mosques of the United Arab Emirates.
The principle behind these visits is for people to better understand the pillars of Islam and witness the rituals of Muslim prayer first-hand.
“Just like us, [Muslims] when we travel to Europe and go everywhere, we can go to the churches and see how you practice your religion – so come in and see how we practice ours,” Al Tamimi explained.
The cultural visits to the mosque are particularly special during the Holy Month of Ramadan, where guests are invited to join their Emirati hosts in breaking their fast at sunset, with a meal called iftar.
The organization also regularly holds Q&A sessions in a typical ‘majlis’ setting. The Arabic term meaning, ‘place of sitting’, is an open forum where host and guests gather for discussion, traditionally over tea, coffee and dates.
During SMCCU’s majlis sessions, no questions are off-limits. The openness of the Emirati hosts is a welcomed surprise to many visiting residents and tourists, who take the opportunity to ask about the local culture and customs.
“’Why do you have four wives?’ and ‘Why do you wear white?’” are some of the questions Al Tamimi says he’s had no issue in politely responding to, in order to increase cultural awareness with his global audience.
“By mixing with other nationalities and giving them the right information […] we change by, 180 or more degrees, their way of looking at the Middle East, at our religion, at our tradition.”he added.
Ramadan Caring & Sharing:
Another project bringing people of the UAE together this Ramadan is ‘Sharing Fridges’, where cold cabinets are stocked for about a month by community members and local businesses.
The idea behind the project is to provide people who are fasting – especially those working outdoors in high temperatures – with food and drink to sustain themselves during the day or to allow them to break their fast at sunset.
“During Ramadan, it’s nice to give back to the communit,.” said Fridge Manager, Farah Caristensen. “So, we are loading up the fridge with things like laban, and juice and bananas and little biscuits. Just for them to have something during the day or after iftar.”
The fridge project was born in 2014 when Fikra Yel, a Moroccan mother and her husband living in the Jumeirah district, wanted to teach their children the values of giving and sharing.
The family had a spare fridge, which they filled with cold drinks and placed outside their house for workers to help themselves from.
Yel is quick to emphasise, however, that human kindness shouldn’t be restricted to simply providing those less-fortunate with bought goods.
“It’s not only about giving them food,” she says, “It’s about talking to them and smiling at them. Asking them, ‘How are you? How is your day?’ Just getting to know them.”
In the past two years, thanks to word spreading on Facebook, the concept has been adopted by people in Yel’s neighbouring communities - resulting in more than 180 fridges on the streets of the UAE this Ramadan.
In a wider, regional charitable initiative, the Abu Dhabi-based Preservation of Grace project, is delivering tens of thousands of clothes to underprivileged people in countries including Yemen, Syria, Sudan and Mauritania.
The clothes - which are mostly donated by local residents – include everything from T-shirts and jeans to wedding dresses.
Quality items are cleaned and categorized by gender and size, before being packaged and sent off to those in need.
‘A huge Victory’: Lebanese Director Wins Key Award in Cannes
Lebanese actor and director Nadine Labaki won the Jury Prize at the 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival. Capharnaum received a fifteen-minute standing ovation at its premiere screening earlier in the week at the event.
The movie explores the poorest slums in Lebanon through the eyes of a child, and it has been lauded for the performances given by its cast of mostly untrained actors.
Drawing particular attention was 12-year-old Zain Al-Rafeea’s portrayal of a youngster divorcing his parents.
The win may prove life-changing for the rising star - who was discovered living on the streets of Beirut - and the rest of the cast made up of many refugee children.
“I mean, it's a huge victory for us - it's a victory in the real sense of the term,” said Labaki, “It was amazing to see Zain [Al Rafeea], a small kid who a few days ago didn't even have papers - he's practically invisible, completely excluded from the system - who's now being lifted and being so much loved and so appreciated.”
The film marks the third feature for Labaki and her win this year came amid much discussion about gender equality at the film festival – and a protest which included Salma Hayek and Cate Blanchett.
Whilst Labaki expressed her pride in the progression of equality, she voiced her dislike for positive discrimination and she was unequivocal in wanting to let her work speak for itself.
"I would be very irritated to know that I'm here because I'm a woman.” she remarked, “I'm in the official competition because, only because I'm a woman. I'm very proud to be able to express myself as a woman here and I'm hoping that I'm here because the film is good not because I'm a woman.”
SOCIAL EYES: INSPIRED TALENT TRENDING ONLINE
Hiba, a blogger from Lebanon was all dressed up for the red carpet event of Nadine Labaki's Capharnaum at the Cannes Film Festival.
Dubai-based Medel prepared and distributed iftar meals with the Emirates Red Crescent for Ramadan.
And this group of expats in the UAE abstained from food from sunrise to sunset before meeting for iftar as a team.
"To get the true experience of Ramadan and to embrace different cultures amongst our rugby team, we all fasted for the day and then came together for an authentic iftar. This photo was taken once the fast was broken... it may not have been so happy beforehand!"