PART ONE – INTROS AND LEARNING ABOUT EMIRATI CULTURE
Co-authored by Hasan Al Mujaini and Dov Lipman
(transcript of a real dialogue)
DOV: Hi my name is Dov Lipman. I am 49 years old. I am married to Dena and we are blessed to have 4 children. We live in Beit Shemesh, Israel. And yourself?
HASAN: Hi my name is Hasan Al Mujaini. I am 45 years old, Married to Rafeea and we have 5 children. We live in Abu Dhabi, the capital of UAE. Nice to meet you Dov. I am working as Financial Analyst in Abu Dhabi National Oil Company called ADNOC. I am a PhD holder specializing in digital transformation. I am an activist for peace and regional reconciliation.
DOV: So nice to meet you. I work as a teacher of Judaic Studies and an advocate for Israel. I hold rabbinic ordination and a masters in education. My wife teaches yoga and biking. Our oldest child, Shlomo, was a commander in the Golani unit. He is 23 and got married last November to Batsheva. He is now studying to become a rabbi and is a singer/musician. Batsheva is finishing her degree to become a dance teacher. Our daughter Devora is 20 and got married a few weeks ago to Yedidya. He is studying in yeshiva and she is studying special education in college. Chaya is 18. She does a lot of volunteering and is spending her first year after high school studying Judaic studies. And Zahava, our youngest, is 16 and is in 11th grade. She is a runner and leads a local youth group.
HASAN: My eldest children is Mariam, she’s 18 years old and studying Artificial Intelligence in Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi. Shaiban is my second child, he is 16 and in grade 11 and he wishes to work in the police, specializing in cybersecurity. My third child is Khalifa who I named after our president of UAE, he is 13 and in grade 9 and he wishes to be a Chemical Engineer. Fourth child is Musifa, she is 10 and in grade 5 and she has YouTube channel, she loves to dance and sing. Last child is Latifa, she is 8 and in grade 3 same as her sister, she loves to dance and sing.
DOV: That’s wonderful. They should all be healthy and you should be blessed that they bring you much joy. I am an Orthodox Jew. Are you a practicing Muslim?
HASAN: I am a Sunni Muslim, neither fanatic nor negligent.
DOV: I think we are in the same category then. I actually got into politics because I was trying to stop religious extremists from bothering others. My day involves prayer 3 times a day. Do I understand correctly that you pray 5 times a day?
HASAN: We are the same, as I hate extremists. And I always teach my children to be far from the extremists, and I teach them the mistakes of these extremists and their bad influence on the countries of the world. Yes, we have 5 prayers, first one starts at 5 a.m., second at 12:30 p.m., third one at 3:30 p.m., fourth at 6 p.m., and the last one at 7:30 p.m.
DOV: It’s incredible how we have so much in common – both in terms of family and in faith. I would love to learn more about your background, faith and how you see us as Jews in Israel.
HASAN: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) consists of the seven small emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al-Khaimah, Ajman, Umm Al-Qaiwain, and Fujairah, which were united as a federal state on 2 December 1971. Before the establishment of the oil economy in the early 1960s, two main orientations shaped traditional Emeriati culture: the nomadic desert-oriented Bedouins with small oasis farming within the broader context of the desert economy and culture, and the sea-oriented culture that revolved around pearling and sea trading.
DOV: Wow. That sounds like a beautiful and quiet way of life. Did the oil economy change all that in a negative way?
HASAN: Not at all. It added wealth. Emirati society is divided into two social categories: the nationals and the foreign immigrants, referred to as the incomers. Citizens are subdivided into four main social classes: (1) the ruling sheikhly families, whose members hold the highest political positions and power and have immense wealth and prestige. (2) the merchant class, traditionally pearling merchants who now sell international consumer goods, (3) the new middle class, represented by increasing numbers of professionals who have benefitted from free state education. (4) the low-income groups, represented by newly settled Bedouin nomads and former pearl divers and oasis farmers.
DOV: Very interesting. Is there a lot of tension between these groups? Is there anger among the lower classes?
HASAN: Not at all, we are tolerant regarding whatever our class is, and this is taught in the religion of Islam.
DOV: Understood. So even though they don’t have as much they are happy because they are respected?
HASAN: Yes, respect is our priority in life, we also teach our kids in this regard. Emeratis are tolerant toward other religions, and immigrants of other faiths are allowed to have their own places of worship. We saw the Jews as the new friends that we hope to get to know even though we feel like we know them from long time ago.
DOV: I try to teach my children that Isaac and Ishmael were brothers and that’s how it should be. It’s hard in Israel because we deal with terrorism from Palestinian Arabs so, sadly, that makes it challenging for them to see Arabs as peaceful cousins.
HASAN: It’s so good you teach your children these things. We didn’t exactly know the Palestinians until we did the peace deal with Israel. They have shown us another face — an ugly face. They now insult us and incite people to hate us everywhere in the media. For that I am in Twitter always tweeting against them.
DOV: We will for sure come back to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but I would love to learn more about your culture first.
HASAN: Emiratis Social customs are shared throughout the Gulf Arab countries. An Islamic greeting (al-salam alaykom ) is the most appropriate, and men follow this with a quick nose-to-nose touch while shaking hands. Women greet each other by kissing several times on both cheeks. Men normally do not shake hands with women in public. It is customary to ask about the health of a person and his or her family several times.
DOV: Isn’t it amazing how we have “shalom aleichem” and you have “al salam alaykom”. It shows that we come from the same source.
HASAN: We are both Semites.
DOV: Is there any meaning behind the nose to nose?
HASAN: No one really knows when it started, or whether it emanated from the region or was imported from other places. What we do know however is that the nose has been charged with symbolism for at least 15 centuries.
DOV: What do you mean by asking about health many times. If they answer the first time you, still ask again?
HASAN: To make sure that everything is truly alright or the person needs help so we can offer some help
DOV: According to our tradition Abraham was the essence of kindness. You continue that tradition
HASAN: Yes, respect and courtesy are shown to elders, and in their presence young men are expected to listen more and speak less. Sex segregation is still evident in social life. Men are entertained in majlis (large living rooms, often with a separate entrance), while women entertain friends in the home. It is customary to take off one’s shoes before entering a private house.
DOV: Do you take off shoes in order not to make the floor dirty?
HASAN: It’s a kind of respect, not about not making the floor dirty. And, of course, the tradition from Abraham leads to us to teaching our children.
DOV: How does your education work? Do you have religious and general studies in the schools? Is it the same for boys and girls?
HASAN: In our schools, Islamic education is an important subject, and it starts from the first primary stage to the general secondary stage.
DOV: Do boys and girls go to separate schools? Does religious education continue in high school and beyond? Does religious education mean studying the Quran?
HASAN: Boys and girls separated from grade 6 onwards, and religious education mean studying Abrahamic religions but more concentrated in Islam.
DOV: Does that mean they also learn about Judaism?
HASAN: Yes, and Christianity
DOV: When they learn about Islam is the studying from the Quran and other religious texts?
HASAN. Only Quran. But we teach them about the Jews that they are God’s chosen people and who their prophets are and about their journey on earth. We teach about Christianity – when it began and who is their prophet, and like that.
DOV: Are there people who are secular and have secular schools?
DOV: So interesting. I have learned so much from this dialogue. Next time, I would be happy to share about Israel with you.
HASAN: Thank you. I would welcome that.