Ask Ali: The traditional practice of hijama

On the ancient remedy of hijama, and some creative ways to meet local people.

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Dear Ali: I have heard of a therapy called hijama that Muslims have used for generations. What is hijama and what does it cure? NK, Sweden

Dear NK: Hijama is an ancient remedy that was used by our Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and he recommended we use it from time to time. In English, hijama is often called cupping, and the Arabic word is derived from "hajm", which means "to suck". Hijama is the process of applying cups to various points on the body and removing the air inside the cups to form a vacuum. Once swelling is visible, the cups are removed and the therapist lightly pricks the skin with a needle or razor (just a tiny incision). The cups are then placed back on the same spots until a considerable amount of blood is drawn out. When finished, the practitioner will spray mutahir, or disinfectant, and plaster the areas.

Depending on what you want to cure, the cups can be placed on the back, chest, head, knees, hands and even the soles of your feet. It has been known to ease pain and complications from rheumatism, diabetes, migraines, menstrual cramps, asthma, back pain, poor circulation, hypertension, schizophrenia, arthritis, insomnia and more. You can find videos on YouTube that illustrate the process.

The blood that is removed is said to be toxic and removing it is believed to cleanse the system and improve circulation.

Hijama doesn't hurt, and many patients claim that it has a calming effect.

Dear Ali: I am trying to find a place to meet local folks. I am female, around 40 and married. I am not interested in finding a relationship but I am a very social person. Can you suggest some place that is not a hotel bar where I could meet people? JM, Al Ain

Dear JM: Indeed, getting to know Emiratis can be tricky, since we make up less than 20 per cent of the population and our women don't often hang out casually in public. We are not too open to the mixing of genders, especially the older generations of women who are either mothers or grandmothers.

I would suggest first finding out where your neighbours come from and if you may cook something as signs of friendship and hospitality. I'm sure they will accept and it might lead to friendship. Homemade food is always a great way to break the ice and if the women are open to getting in touch, you will soon receive something in return. We are a collective society and we may seem difficult to approach, but before socialising we have to know you first and if your values and lifestyle fit with us.

You also might want to look into some of the women's groups in Abu Dhabi to help connect with different social circles. Or get in touch with museums - guides there are friendly, open minded and speak English to answer some of the questions you may have. Language is a major challenge for many of our mothers and sisters who might shy away from getting to know expat women. It's important in our culture to save face, and some people may be embarrassed by their English skills.

Guides at tourist sites can be a great window into our culture and who knows, could be the beginning of a new friendship. Before you know it, you might be getting invitations to weddings and social events!

The Al Ain National Museum is staffed by Emiratis with great sense for communication and cultural exchange. I'm sure you'll enjoy getting to know them.

Language lesson

Arabic: Mumkin nitaaraf?

English: Can we get to know each other?

You may say, "Mumkin nitaaraf", which means "Can we get to know each other?" preferably to someone of the same gender. However, many men also use it when they introduce themselves to a woman, which is OK but only if it's done politely and with grace.