Abu Dhabi: After his eight-year-old daughter asked him if what the foreign couple was doing was allowed in the UAE, an Emirati man made it his mission to clarify what is considered permissible and prohibited in the country.
Walking in a mall, 40-year-old Mohammad Al Qubaisi was shocked when he saw a Western couple kissing in public.
“My daughter then came up to me and asked me whether this was allowed. I immediately told her that it wasn’t. She then proceeded to ask me were they not aware of this before they came to the country,” he said.
On approaching the pair to alert them to the fact that what they were doing is wrong, he was surprised to find out that they knew nothing of the country’s norms and traditions.
“They told me ‘We did not read this on the websites we visited before we got here’. So I set up a platform that allows foreigners and tourists to familiarise themselves with both the formal and informal laws on acceptable social behaviour in the country,” he added.
This is when he set up ‘Before You Go To The UAE’, a website that covers a range of dos and don’ts from society’s perspective on mall-wear to the rules of touching the Quran.
“I did face challenges when compiling the information because while there are websites and online sources on UAE culture, much of what I found was not credible and some of it was even untrue. So I sought to redirect my search towards Emiratis and library books which spoke about the topic,” Al Qubaisi told Gulf News.
This is not the first time he has made a bid to spread awareness. In 2000 he wrote a booklet for distribution at embassies and airlines but no one seemed interested in his project.
“Since then many incidents have taken place where a simple matter of miscommunication and lack of understanding of UAE norms has led to disputes and even jail time,” he said.
Having lived abroad for many years, Al Qubaisi has heard a variety of misconceptions that people have towards both Arab traditions and Islamic practices. Positive light
“Some might mistake group prayers for exercise, or the call to prayer [athan] for some sort of alarm, especially if they hear it at dawn. Additionally, when asking for directions, men should speak to husbands instead of their wives, and tourists must also accept that even swimwear may differ from country to country,” he said.
At the same time, the website’s founder also says that he does not wish to frighten visitors or make the UAE seem daunting.
“I have tried as much as possible to showcase the UAE in a positive light, all the while giving those abroad realistic expectations of this great country and its people,” he said.
Currently a manager at a semi-government entity, the father of five is working with his 17-year-old daughter on the website’s content development. He is also seeking to find if an official UAE authority is willing to adopt this non-profit project.
“I am currently working with an artist who has volunteered to sketch illustrations that will better explain some of the ideas mentioned on the website,” he added.
Al Qubaisi soon plans to open a forum on his website where UAE residents and even tourists can share their experiences via photographs and videos which can be uploaded onto www.beforeyougotouae.com