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Dubai Culture and Heritage

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Dubai is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic city, its culture rooted in Islam. It is one of the most important cities of the Arab Muslim world. While the food and entertainment avenues reflect Dubai’s cosmopolitan nature, the use of traditional wear in daily life and practice of Ramadan showcase the Emiratis’ respect for their culture.

While each and every single neighborhood has its own mosque where prayers are offered five times every day, there is an equal number of shopping malls, beach resorts, theatres, food outlets, public parks and other avenues for entertainment that make Dubai unique in the Arab world. Dubai is a progressive, business savvy city that hasn’t lost touch with its core.


Dubai is the second most populous state of the federation of United Arab Emirates (UAE). It has a population of 1.4 million (according to 2006 census).


Dubai is a multi-cultural city, based on non-citizen immigrants. Its citizens, however, are referred to as Emiratis.


According to demographic studies last conducted in 1982, less than 20% of Dubai’s total population has a UAE citizenship. The rest of the population consists of: 23% Arabs and Iranians, 50% South Asians, and 8% Westerners, East Asians, and others.


Islam is the most widely practiced religion in Dubai. Muslims comprise 96% of Dubai’s total population, of which 16% are Shiite Muslims. The remaining 4% of the population, who are non-citizen immigrants, practice Christianity and Hinduism. There is also a Hindu Temple and a Sikh Gurdwara. Christian churches are also present in Dubai.

Languages Spoken

Arabic is the official language of Dubai. However, other languages such as English, Hindi, Persian, and Urdu are also spoken, largely by the expatriates.

Traditional Costume

Emiratis, both men and women, wear traditional garments in their every-day lives. It is a symbol of national pride and the continuance of culture for them. The men wear ankle-length robes called ‘dishdasha’ that are usually white. A skull cap (gafia), a white or red-checkered head cloth (gutra) and a twisted black coil (agal) form the headgear and complete the attire.

The traditional women wear consists of trousers (sirwal), a floor-length embroidered dress (jillabeeya), black cloak (abaya), a veil (nikab), burqa, and hejjab.


Though Dubai does not have a unique cuisine of its own, being a multi-cultural city, it offers a range of cuisines to choose from. While Indian, Pakistani, and Filipino restaurants offer good quality food at reasonable prices, Japanese, French, and Thai restaurants fall in the expensive bracket. Arabic food (typical of Iran and Lebanon) is also available. With many restaurants being run by Muslims, bars are restricted to tourists and business hotels.

Folk Dance and Music

Arabic music is the most ancient and popular form of folk music in Dubai. Percussion instruments (drums, tambourines), violins, and flutes are used to create this music. Town, sea, and desert songs are other popular forms of folk music.

Dubai folk dances are also influenced by the music they are set to. Ayyala, a battle dance, for instance, is set to beating drums. Liwa, a dance performed at wedding and special occasions, is set to African music. And Haban (or Khayali) takes its name from the string instrument that is played during the dance.


Ramadan is the holy month of fasting for Muslims. It is the ninth month in the Muslim calendar that is reserved for fasting everyday for an entire month, offering more than usual prayers. People fast during the day and offer prayers throughout the day and night. After sunset, they gather with their families and break their fasts. This month is a festivity itself as Muslims meet each other over fast breaking parties and enjoy this month as a chance for the forgiveness of their sins through their fasts and prayers. During the entire length of Ramadan, non-Muslims are strongly advised not to eat in public areas in the day time.

The height of Ramadan is marked with the end of this holy month with the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr, when eating in the day time again becomes a normal routine. The three days of Eid are celebrated by wearing new clothes and accessories, cooking and eating lavish meals and visiting relatives and friends. Eid-ul-Fitr is the biggest festival in the Muslim calendar.

Another Muslim festival, the Eid-ul-Azha, comes soon after Hajj, near the end of the Muslim calendar year. Hajj is the divine pilgrimage Muslims take to the holy lands of Saudi Arabia. Moreover, the Dubai Shopping Festival (the biggest of its kind in the world) and Dubai World Cup add to the Dubai festival scene.


Entertainment avenues in Dubai are born out of its geographic location, cultural practices and heritage. You too can indulge in:

  • Desert safaris, sand surfing, dune diving, and wadi (dry river beds) bashing.
  • Camel racing and falconry.
  • Cruises on traditional boats (dhows) on the Creek and the Gulf.
  • Shopping at the century old souks.
  • Birding and photography.


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