During a breakfast at the Shaikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding. The SMCCU has grown vastly over 15 years since its inauguration and expanded its cultural breakfast to two and cultural lunches to twice a week. Image Credit: Abdel-Krim Kallouche/Gulf News

Dubai: The historic area of Bastakiya not only gives hundreds of tourists an insight into the country’s rich architecture but also offers a unique look into understanding how different cultures live in harmony in Dubai.  

Tucked away in a renovated building in Bastakiya is the Shaikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) — a non-profit organisation established to raise awareness about Emirati culture, which has reached a milestone this year and is celebrating its 15th anniversary. 

The idea of bridging culture between Emiratis and expatriates and visitors was founded by Abdullah Bin Eisa Al Serkal in 1996 and over the next two years the centre was established under the patronage of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. 

“The idea initially came from Al Serkal answering people’s questions at his home and his office, and before the centre was established in Bastakiya that idea developed into having a majlis at Deira City Centre in the area where the cinemas are now,” explained Nasif Kayed, General Manager of SMCCU.

The SMCCU has grown significantly in the 15 years since its inauguration and expanded its Grand Jumeirah Mosque visits from four days a week in 2006 to six days a week, and from one cultural breakfast to two, and cultural lunches to twice a week.
Meanwhile, other activities have been added to the centre’s itinerary, including traditional dinners that are held once a week, Tuesday at 7pm, and brunch is held on Saturday at 10.30am.

In addition to public bookings it also offers private ones throughout the day.

The centre has proven so popular that the internet travel website TripAdvisor rated SMCCU as one of the top three places to visit in Dubai, as it offers guided visits of mosques across the city, including the Grand Mosque in Rashidiya. In 2011 SMCCU hosted 2,570 guests for its cultural breakfast, and it received 2,890 guests for its cultural lunch programme, an increase of 76 per cent since 2010.

“We have opened the minds of people and shown them that there are more similarities than differences, and people realise that their perceptions have been exaggerated because of media influence.

“People are thankful that it takes only 90 minutes to dispel the stereotype in a humorous way and relaxed atmosphere,” said Kayed. 

The SMCCU has also made an impact within the community as Emirati volunteers line up to help deliver the cultural programmes to visitors, particularly through its internship programme to students at UAE-based universities. 

“By participating in the internship, it acts as a knowledge builder and cultural enhancer, and can change a person in seven weeks, because it teaches you how to represent yourself and your culture. Our dream is to build a cultural awareness academy, and this year is a milestone [because we have accomplished so much] but we would like more volunteers to join,” he said.