The United Arab Emirates - From Souks and Dhows to Skyscrapers and Dunes
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of the United Arab Emirates is glitz, glamour, wealth and warm weather. Many people know little about the history of the souks and dhows of the once desert island of the Emirates. Whilst the UAE is all of these things, we would also like to dig deeper beneath the surface, beneath the artificial sand dunes into the narrow streets of a land that was once inhabited by the bare-footted Bedouins. Although modern-day life here has evolved way beyond this simple life of the medina and the alleyways, there are still hints of their old life glistening in the cracks beneath the surface. As one of the most visited countries in the Middle East and across the world, the UAE is an exciting muslim-friendly holiday destination and an astonishing place that really takes the phrase of ‘starting from scratch’ literally.
The history of the UAE
We have all seen the infamous before and after pictures of Dubai, and we think the history of Dubai and the UAE starts from there - the early 1990s. But we don’t often talk about the time before the 1990s, the history of the Bedouins and their lifestyles. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founder of the UAE, was responsible for creating the Emirates by bringing together Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al-Quwain, Fujairah and later Ras Al Khaimah. Abu Dhabi was then a poor area, prone to disease outbreaks. As a leader, he recognised the valuable source of oil the land possessed, but wanted to build something sustainable that would continue to bring value to the economy. This and the forward thinking of Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum and other Sheikhs, allowed Dubai to evolve rapidly from a small desert port city into a thriving and bustling metropolis, dazzling everyone who visits. Many regard the city as a source of inspiration and a true symbol of the freedom to be able to do anything you put your mind to.
Whilst the UAE seem like just a shimmering skyline, there is much more beneath the surface. The ancient land of falcons, dunes, thobes and abayas, is hidden beneath the luxury but still there to be explored. The rising sun will cast a rosy hue on the Arabian desert, revealing the dunes where Sheikh Zayed and his ancestors would kneel in prayer. Dig deeper into the sand dunes, as there are still experiences to be had that will take you back in time to the culture of the past. You can find yourself under the bright red sun, drinking fresh kahwa (coffee) on the mountaintops, driving a top class jeep on a desert safari combining old and new, and even experiencing a night under the stars in a Bedouin tent. Pioneer of the halal tourism industry, Dubai constantly delivers when it comes to innovative and exhilarating muslim-friendly experiences.
Why choose the UAE?
You may well ask this important question when looking for holiday inspiration as there are many other choices to explore. Well for us, it’s a country that encompasses so much and offers a variety of tourism whatever your interest is.
If you're into architecture for example, the world's tallest building the iconic Burj al Khalifa, at an astounding 828m tall, is located in Dubai standing ready for you to feast your eyes. With a stark alchemy of old and new, the Emirates offer a unique blend of the centuries all in one place. Many buildings offer the chance to see a beautiful blend of modernity maintained with Emirati traditional architecture. Amongst the preserved buildings is the House of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum in Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. Built in the 1800s, the house was the residence of the ruler of Dubai and is home to a museum which contains artefacts and images of the old Dubai. It also boasts a beautiful view of the renowned Dubai Skyline.
Thrill-seekers will find themselves thriving in the UAE, with countless activities such as desert safaris and bungee jumping. They will also want to seek out the world’s longest zipline on the highest mountain of the UAE, Ras Al Khaimah’s Jebel Jais. This exciting activity will plunge you through the mountains of the Middle East, providing the thrills you desire.
Shopaholics will enjoy exploring the dazzling golden souks and the world class luxurious shopping malls which are home to shops and entertainment quite like no other. With mini theme parks, aquariums and ski slopes all under one roof, it truly is an unforgettable experience for the entire family. During the month of January, Dubai hosts the Dubai Shopping Festival, during which the whole city turns into a shopping center.
If you love spending time in the midst of nature, then you will surely appreciate the natural beauty of the UAE. The miracle Gardens in Dubai is an enchanting wonder; the aroma of 150 million beautiful flowers in all the colours of the rainbow are a reminder of what the world would be like through “rose-tinted glasses”. The “Empty Quarter”, Rub Al Khali, is also a wonder in itself as the world's second largest sand desert. With its own desert hotel, the Qasr Al Sarah, the resort is like an oasis in the middle of the sand dunes, unlike no other. The perfect opportunity to observe the stars and the peace in nature, away from the city lights.
Halal food in the UAE
The UAE has a unique way of bringing back nostalgic food memories from all over the world, such as the coffee shop in Canada (Tim Hortons), or the steak you ate in a restaurant in Turkey (Nusr-Et SteakHouse) to be enjoyed amongst the palm trees and warm climate. The food critics out there have refined tables of the best cuisine fit for kings and sheikhs. Everything you desire or crave to eat is available, and as a Muslim country, everything is halal! Michelin star restaurants, revolving restaurants, restaurants with a view and top class Asian and African restaurants are just a click of the fingers away in this halal food heaven.
Lamb Ouzi, a dish made from baked lamb and seasoned rice, is a recipe that has been cooked and handed down the generations for hundreds of years. In the hot midday sun, it was a necessity for bedouins to travel light - and one way to do this was to create an oven in the sand, burying the food underneath to cook. Enjoy this dish, for example, in the Millennium Plaza Hotel in Dubai.
Another staple of Arab culture is the freshly made coffee, known as Kahwa. The Dallah (traditional Arab coffee pot) is always ready to welcome any visitors or guests in the Middle East. Often strong and brewed at all times of the day, it is definitely worth trying to fully experience the Emirati culture. We recommend enjoying your morning kahwa in any café that may offer a beautiful view, to get the best kickstart to the morning.
Private properties with pool
For the Muslim traveller, the UAE is perfect for its properties with a private pool. There are many villas and hotels, suitable for the Muslim couple, family and more. This luxury is what makes the UAE such a popular holiday destination with Muslim tourists, and with food, entertainment and prayer facilities close by, it offers the full package.
Ousha bint Khalifa Al Suwaidi - Emirati poetess
The prominent cultural figure Ousha bint Khalifa Al Suwaidi (1920-2018), also known as the “Daughter of the Gulf”, was considered one of the best Arab poets Nabati. Her poems are a source of inspiration for young female poets and were also admired by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who renamed her "Daughter of the Arabs". A section in her honour has even been inaugurated at the Dubai Women's Museum.
For the halal-conscious traveller
Since Islam came to the region as early as 630 AD with envoys from the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the UAE is rich in prayer facilities. The Al Bidya Mosque in Fujairah, built in the 1500s and still operating today, is the oldest in the gulf. The simplicity of the mosque is striking compared to the modern buildings such as the amazing Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.
For further enlightenment, we recommend going to see the Quranic Park in Dubai. With free entry, the park offers insights into the Holy Quran and acknowledgement of the Islamic values of peace, love and tolerance. The park also has magnificent gardens, including an Islamic and desert garden. It is the perfect source of inspiration and Islamic knowledge.
Our curated tip
Travel around the seven Emirates on a road trip and discover the marvels of each emirate. Find yourself transitioning along the different emirates and see the cultural differences come to light. Make your own UAE - Unique Arabian Experience. Travellers often follow an itinerary - but the most special parts are memories that you don’t often hear about, the niche finds - off the beaten track.
The UAE is made up of 7 unique Emirates to make a jigsaw that fits so well together, where each piece has its own history, style and ambience. Plan your trip to enjoy and uncover each one and experience the luxuries combined with the traditions of the past. Haqana (truly), you won’t be disappointed.