If the dirham had its own currency symbol, what would it look like?

To mark the dirham's 45th birthday, pupils from Al Shohub School designed its currency symbol

Abu Dhabi, UAE,  April 9, 2018.  Al Shohub School, Khalifa City, Abu Dhabi.  Students with their UAE dirham symbol art work.  
Victor Besa / The National
Reporter:   Anna Zacharias

The rupee, yen, baht, dram and rouble all have their own currency symbols – and the dirham should be next, say pupils from a school in Abu Dhabi.

Students from Al Shohub School in Khalifa City A recently held a school-wide competition where they were charged with designing a symbol for the UAE's currency.

"Everyone knows the euro, everyone knows the dollar and everyone knows the pound," says Carolyn Smarr, the school's business studies teacher who organised the competition. "So, from a business standpoint, it's something to have the world recognise you."

The competition coincides with the dirham's 45th anniversary. The UAE currency was introduced on May 19, 1973 to replace the Bahraini dinar in Abu Dhabi and the Qatari riyal in Dubai. Now, almost half a century on, the time could be right for the dirham to get its own symbol.  

Gender equality and unity between seven emirates were common themes that pupils represented as national values of the UAE.

“People are starting to focus more on the role of women in the UAE,” says Shamsa Al Mazrouei, a 15-year-old who used two lines intersecting an infinity symbol to represent gender equality. “We’ve seen more women employed because of the sheikhs in the UAE, and we’ve seen more women that are ministers.”

The students were asked to combine simplicity and symbolism. They studied how currency symbols evolved over time.

The US dollar, for example, may have evolved from the Pillars of Hercules, a medieval Spanish symbol for the New World. With this model, pupils were asked to take history and symbolism into account.

Maria Lutfi, 15, was one of a few pupils to use Arabic letters in her design. "The simplicity of it would help it be recognisable," the Bulgarian believes. "I wanted it to be quite unique and different to the western cultures." She could be onto something. Her concept is similar to the thinking of Udaya Kumar Dharmalingam, who was selected from 25,000 applications in 2010 for his design of the Indian rupee symbol. Dharmalingam combined the Devanagari letter "ra" with the Latin "R" for a design that offered both an international and local appeal.

Modern currency symbols, such as proposals for the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, take computer rendering into account and can be used in different fonts with symbols rooted in the common Qwerty keyboard. The Latin alphabet is often preferred because it is globally recognisable. Dashes are a common feature so that symbols can be immediately distinguished as currency signs.

Asha Al Suwaidi, 13, used a “Z” with two dashes for Sheikh Zayed, with the idea that it would introduce the Founding Father to a global audience.

Like the euro, her design looked at the country's origins. The euro symbol was derived from the Greek letter epsilon, and had appeal because of its historic roots. By using a "Z", Al Suwaidi's design is a nod to history, at the same time avoiding one of the flaws of the original euro design, which was too wide.

Nada Ali Dabour, age 15, proposed a D with two lines. “It’s simple and recognisable by all ages, young children, older people,” she said.

"I just wanted to give my students a real-world situation," says Smarr, who has been a UAE resident for six years. "I try to focus a lot on the country. It's not relevant to talk to them about things that aren't happening here."


Read more on the history of UAE currency:

Noteworthy nod to Dubai's past

A history of the Dh10 note

A history of the Dh5 note


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