Ask Ali: The social rules that are never written down and will traditional henna soon be replaced

Dear Ali: Why is it that my female Emirati friends rarely join me when I invite them to an event, especially if it happens in another emirate or in the evening? I understand local cultural rules, but being a woman myself, I thought it shouldn't be an issue for them to join me? MF, Western Region

Dear MF: I can understand your feelings and frustration. I know it's always great to attend events with your besties, and when they can't go with you, you need a good reason. If they can't explain, you get disappointed.

Simply speaking, the lifestyle of Arabs from this region has a lot of dos and don’ts – the majority of these rules aren’t written down, so you won’t know them unless someone tells you what’s acceptable and what’s not.

So let me try to explain why such things might happen. Once you understand there are some good reasons, hopefully you’ll start to feel better.

First of all, I’m sure your friends absolutely love and respect you, and I’m sure they’re eager to go with you every time you invite them. However, as I assume your female friends don’t live on their own, they would obviously then live with their families – with parents or their husbands. When you invite them to an event, consider inviting her family as well. Sure enough her family will not come along, but they will definitely need to know all the details about where she’s going, with whom, what time and for how long, the type of the event and what she’s going to do there.

I know for some people it sounds weird, especially if the person in question is an adult, but in our culture it’s considered a duty to take care of our family members, especially the women. It’s always done for the sake of a woman and her safety. God knows what can happen just on the way to an event.

So what should you do the next time you’re interested in an activity and want your friends to join? First, get all the available information about the event. If you know that other Emirati women are going there, tell your friends that, as this would help you to gain more trust about the event.

Even after you’ve done all that groundwork, and your friend has confirmed her wish to join, give her time to check with those who are around her and that her family is fine with your plans as well.

Dear Ali: Do you think traditional henna will soon be replaced by the popular gold or silver temporary henna tattoos? KI, Abu Dhabi

Dear KI: I guess you've started seeing fewer and fewer women with henna designs on their hands. We all notice this tendency, particularly in the big cities. I believe this is a credit to the influence of social-media sites such as Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, where new fashion trends spread all over the world in seconds, and we're ready to follow a fresh wave, especially when it finds a reflection within our customs.

The same goes for henna. Probably for many modern women, gold, white, blue or silver temporary tattoos on their hands, instead of traditional henna, looks nice, stylish and fresh. But it’s just another look very deeply rooted in our cultural tradition of henna decoration, which will always be alive. Maybe people can change something to give it a new look, but it will never have the same impact as the original method.

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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