Ask Ali: Is it acceptable to wear henna at work?

In this week's Ask Ali we learn about how historic houses were built and whether henna is acceptable in the workplace.

Dear Ali: How can I convince my western colleagues that henna is fine for a lady in a business environment? MS, Dubai

Dear MS: You’ll never be able to convince me, because I simply can’t stand its smell, even though people love it for its look and aroma.

But, in general, convincing people about something they’re not used to is not an easy task. Whether it’s their beliefs or the company’s grooming standards, henna and other accessories may not be allowed in certain fields such as hospitality, restaurants and service-orientated companies.

Considering that we should take good care of our relationships with our colleagues, I would suggest that you check with your HR department about any restrictions regarding henna. If there are not any, make sure you explain its cultural importance and value, to shine a positive light on it.

Mention that henna is a beloved decoration for ladies’ hands and feet in this region; that the designs are elegant and last from a week to a month depending on the material that’s mixed with the henna.

Usually it is not applied more than once a month. Some ladies like to have it only for special occasions. You can also mention that it’s a natural beauty product that was used by our grandmothers and grandfathers, and that we’re proudly keeping this tradition alive.

Even if your company’s codes don’t allow it, your colleagues might accept it if they understand its meaning. Encourage them to show respect for this part of our culture.

I don’t find it an issue if a western lady goes to work with henna on her hands. It could be a great topic to begin a conversation with locals and colleagues, which is essential in business. But try to have traditional Emirati henna and not only the flowery Indian style.

Dear Ali: What did Emiratis build houses from back in the day if there was only sand? KH, Dalma Island

Dear KH: Despite the land being barren, our ancestors were very inventive. They managed to survive in an incredibly tough environment.

First of all, different areas of land provided different resources and materials. People who lived near the mountains were more settled and could build their houses from available materials such as stones.

Farmers had arish houses that were built from palm trees. Bedouins had to migrate from place to place, so their houses were mobile. Khaimahs (tents) were made from goat hair, or could also be called bait al shaar, meaning a hair house.

Houses of those living near the sea were often made of mud brick, coral and palm fronds. That’s what our first buildings were built from.

Our homes used to be built from the resources that were available at that time, but they also depended on which tribal background you came from. The desert, sea, islands, passes or mountains all had their own signature buildings.

The recent Qasr Al Hosn Festival showcased our oldest building, which was built by our fathers, and showed the inhabited areas of our land, presenting different lifestyles in detail, along with examples of houses built by Bedouins, and coastal and farm people.

You can check out the coastal people’s houses at Al Fahidi Historical District in Dubai, which was previously known as Bastakiya.

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit to ask him a question.

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