‘Etihad’: The Arabic word for union is deeply connected to the UAE’s identity

There are several words connected to the idea of unification that share its values

The Arabic word for union, etihad, is intrinsically connected to the UAE. The National
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May is a significant month not only for the history of the UAE but for the Gulf region.

On May 25, 1981, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar officially formed the Gulf Co-operation Council. Fifteen years later, on May 20, 1996, at a meeting of the Federal Supreme Council of the UAE, the provisional Constitution was made permanent and Abu Dhabi was officially named the capital.

In each instance, this week’s Arabic word of the week, etihad, meaning union, was an important theme nationally and regionally.

Etihad is a noun whose official and perhaps more conceptual meaning is to combine or mix different elements, so they become one. A more general and common meaning for Etihad is an agreement or the concept of coming together. Both of these meanings include the ideas of physically coming together but also uniting socially or spiritually.

The origin of the word etihad is the verb etihada, which means to unite or to agree or to form a union of some sort. It's derived from the four Arabic letters Alif, Tah, Ha’a and Dal.

There are various ways etihad is used in formal language through phrases and expressions that denote positive connotations of unity.

There is the idea of al etihad al watani, which translates to the union of a country, meaning one nation coming together for a common goal or vision. Another example is ramiz al etihad, which refers to the visual representation of a nation through a symbol of some sort, such as a flag or logo.

Etihad is also used to mean a union of any sort within various sectors, clubs or hobbies.

It specifically can refer to a gathering of people, united through shared goals and visions or who are protesting against or advocating the same issues. This can refer to a writer’s union, a student union or a larger corporation or even a group of countries, such as the European Union.

From a philosophical or spiritual perspective, etihad can refer to a combination of two things or more in a moment of enlightenment or elevation. This can combine the soul, spirit, or emotions with the body.

Whether from an intimate and individual perspective to a smaller group of people and then to large entities and even political, social and nationalistic purposes, etihad is the idea of becoming one, uniting, for a greater goal.

There are several words that also share the same four Arabic letters that are connected to the concepts and values to the definition of etihad.

There is wahid, which simply means number one.

Then there is wahada, often used in the phrase wahada Allah, which is to proclaim your belief in, alignment and surrender to God. The same word is used in the concept of wahada al qoum, which is one person bringing a group, tribe or an army of people together physically, and to work towards one goal.

Then there is waheda, which can be seen as having slightly more negative connotations, referring to the idea of something that becomes alone, separate or even lonely.

It’s interesting to note that the word etihad and the other words connected to it, while referring to the idea of unity, inadvertently also refer to the concept of separating from a group or from one’s former self, to evolve into something better.

The word etihad has become prevalent in common vernacular, particularly in the UAE.

Etihad Airways is the national airline of the country, the Etihad Arena on Yas Island is one of the Middle East’s largest indoor entertainment venues. Al-Ittihad newspaper was the first Arabic language daily publication in the country, launched in 1969.

Even the Arabic name of the UAE includes the word moutahida, which is a variation of the word etihad.

The concept of etihad is not one of the UAE's core values but it is deeply embedded in its history and identity. Unity is a thread in the multicultural citizens that make up the population of the UAE, but also between the seven emirates and across the Gulf.

Updated: May 24, 2024, 6:02 PM