"If you don't drink, how do you meet people?" It's a question often asked to Muslim millennials, writes author Shelina Janmohamed in her book Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World. Janmohamed defines Generation M as a group of young Muslims who are proving that faith and modernity are not mutually exclusive, and who are spotting business opportunities to cater to the diverse lifestyle needs of modern-day Muslims.
Sabrina Salhi, who lives in Dubai, is one such entrepreneur. While clubbing and socialising within alcohol-serving establishments may be lifestyle norms for UAE residents, she has launched an all-new female-only event concept called Unveiled DXB, where women can enjoy a night out on the town in an environment without alcohol, men or even smartphone cameras.
Salhi has lived in the UAE for almost a decade, is a married mother of two, and has a background in business management and interior design. “I’ve always been very entrepreneurial. So I decided to apply all of the business and creative skills that I’ve accumulated over my life into this new event concept,” she says.
Dressed in a stylish white blouse tucked into a pleated polka-dot maxi skirt, with a black headscarf, fringed heels and Gucci belt, she is the epitome of the modern Muslim woman. “I felt that the nightlife and entertainment options were quite limited, in that they catered to certain types of people, but left what I saw as an underserved niche,” she says.
No alcohol, no men, no cameras
“I always say that it’s very important to have a balanced lifestyle, and I think a huge part of that is having an outlet where you can just enjoy yourself. But when you turn to those sorts of evening entertainment options, a lot of them come fuelled with things that I didn’t find compatible with my lifestyle, and I assumed that many women out there felt the same as well. I thought that it would be a good idea to come up with this event where we can go out, meet people and, at the same time, enjoy ourselves, dance, do a bit of shopping, get pampered and all of those lovely things that we ladies enjoy, in a way that doesn’t necessarily compromise our beliefs. So there’s no alcohol, no men and no photography; it’s very private, basically a space for women to just let loose,” she explains.
It’s not only for women who wear the hijab
Unveiled DXB is an all-inclusive ladies’ night, open to women of all nationalities, faiths and backgrounds – it’s not just for women who wear the hijab. “Surprisingly, despite what the name might suggest, a lot of the guests who came the last time wouldn’t necessarily identify with that,” says Salhi. “This caters to the Muslim market for sure, but it doesn’t necessarily exclude anybody else.”
Although the first image that may come to mind when hearing the word “unveiled” may be of a woman literally taking her hijab off, the name of the event carries multiple meanings, Salhi tells me. “Whether or not you veil outside is irrelevant – if you do, then you can feel free to unveil, we have a cloakroom service and it’s completely private. The other thing is, it’s unveiling a different side of us, and it’s also unveiling a lot of brands out here that I want to support through our pop-ups; there are loads of regional designers that I would love to help bring exposure to,” she says.
What the night involves
Salhi held her first event in June, and the next one is scheduled for October 1. It will take place at Cubano Lito and will start at 8pm, with entry costing Dh185. “The evening will consist of really good music with the female DJ Liutik, and we’ve got food and drink flowing throughout the night,” she explains. Guests will also be able to shop from a selection of local and regional brands at the Unveiled pop-up, along with enjoying pampering services such as manicures and makeovers.
"When I select a venue, the top of my priority list is how private can this venue be. So I need to make sure that it can be completely shut off and it's self-contained, with restroom facilities inside," says the entrepreneur. And while her selected venue may normally serve alcohol, Salhi makes sure that there isn't any served, or even visible, on the night of the event. "With regards to the alcohol, I aim to have the event in an atmosphere that's quite loungey, so it does lend itself to the restaurant/bar concept. However, the irony is that this is a non-alcoholic event," says Salhi. "So we remove all the liquor at the venue."
The other major rule for the night, aside from the event being strictly ladies-only, of course, is a restriction on photography. Out of respect for women who dress conservatively on the outside, but may have shed some layers for the event, guests are not allowed to take any photos in the main event room.
What if you are a selfie addict?
But for those who are unable to go a night without sharing any snaps on social media, Salhi has set up a space where cameras are allowed.
"I'm a millennial myself, and I'm pretty addicted to my phone, so we do have a zone where there is a photo booth with lots of fun props and backdrops, and there you can take all the selfies you want," she says. "In a way, not only is it for guests' privacy, but it's also taking us back to the old times where we used to just enjoy ourselves without having the need to document every single second of it."
While the event has launched in Dubai, Salhi has plans to expand on a global scale. "I personally feel as if I'm tapping into a niche that I represent. And I feel like I could be any woman, anywhere, and they probably feel the same frustrations and desires that I do," she says. The next cities to host Unveiled events will be Abu Dhabi and Jeddah, and then, next spring, London. "I'm from the United Kingdom, and have been living in the Middle East and socialising with the ladies here for a long time, so I know what they like and don't like, hence why I think this is a concept that could really take off on an international scale, inshallah."