Ask Ali: Kissing in public, renting a flat and the rababah

Our culture columnist takes questions about public displays of affection, buying a flat in Dubai without a residence permit and an instrument that remains vital to Bedouins.

Dear Ali: After some of the indecency charges recently reported in the media, what is your take on modern attitudes towards cultural differences? Do you think kissing in public will ever be legal in the UAE? MF, Abu Dhabi

Dear MF: For the last 1,400 years or so Islam has been revealed to people around the world. The faith stresses the importance of family, respect for one's others, how to dress modestly and how to behave with members of the opposite sex. These social values, not Islamic law, are the reasons why Islam continues to grow. Of course, kissing in public is not illegal. I kiss my mother in public, as does almost every Emirati man. We kiss our mothers, sisters and daughters in public. It all depends on context. I kissed my mother's forehead when I left the UAE for school in the USA. It's not that we are against affection, it's that we are against public displays of affection between unrelated, unmarried members of the opposite sex. Married couples can hold hands or kiss, but you won't see many Emiratis doing this because it just isn't who we are. The way we look at it, if you allow kissing on the beach some couples will be making love on the Corniche. I'm not sure this is acceptable behaviour anywhere. What's so unique about modernisation in the UAE is that the government is open, but at the same time, careful to balance religion and social life. Hope that helps.

Dear Ali: I live in Doha but now want to move to the UAE. Is it possible for me to rent a flat, or possibly buy a studio flat in Dubai without having a residence visa there? RO, Qatar

Dear RO: Nationals of GCC countries can purchase any properties they like. For all other nationalities, freehold properties are possible to buy. The procedures to get an entry permit, or visa, to the UAE and the duration of the stay will depend on a number of factors, for instance your nationality and your current country of residence. Therefore, it is difficult for me to offer more than general advice without knowing more of your circumstances. Indeed, for some nationalities, the entry permit is given upon arrival and stamped into the passport without too much formality. However, this is meant to make things easy for tourism and business visitors, and I would not recommend trying to make arrangements with monthly weekend trips to arrange a de-facto permanent stay. At some stage, the immigrations officers may have some questions. Special visa arrangements are in place for property owners but things are handled differently in the different emirates. Therefore, I recommend you visit your local immigration office to get up-to-date advice.

Dear Ali: What would you consider the most important and authentic Bedouin musical instrument? And is it still used? TF, Dubai?

Dear TF: I always say string is king when it comes to musical instruments and I would say that the most important and authentic instrument employed throughout the Arabian peninsula is our beloved rababah. It is customarily played by a sha'er, a traditional poet or poet-singer to accompany heroic songs and love songs. Played with a horsehair bow, the instrument has a quadrilateral sound box covered with skin and, believe it or not, just a single string made from horsehair. The rababah is an ancient instrument and is capable of a range of notes and ornamentation that has provided the melodic backdrop to the nomadic Bedouin way of life for centuries. In the Western Region, rababah and poetry gatherings still take place, and it is played at traditional cultural events.

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.