By 1990s, only a handful of Emirati women were taking up jobs that put them in contact with men. One of them was a friend of Sheikha Fatima, Hessa Al Khaledi, UAE’s first woman civil engineer. With Sheikh Zayed’s approval, Sheikha Fatima asked Hessa to recruit the country’s first female soldiers, along with the blessings of the religious authorities.
Heraclius the Byzantine has gathered a huge army: there are 200,000 amassed against the Muslims led by Khalid ibn Al Walid on the banks of Al Yarmuk river on the Syrian front. The battle is terrible and, eventually, starts to go bad for the Muslims. More and more withdrew, when, out of nowhere, a tall, imposing knight, enveloped all in black, with gleaming gray eyes, gallops into the fray, sword flying. Heads roll. The Muslims stop their retreat in awe at the reckless courage of this Arab warrior, penetrating the lines of the Byzantines, rushing right into their centre.
Three horsemen charge in behind the knight. One of them has slashed the head of a Greek and holds it high. Inspired, the Muslims turn to fight again. As one body, they raise their swords and follow the black knight into the smoky battle and soon the Byzantines have fallen or run away.
When the battle ends, Khalid walks up to the knight, asking who he is. The knight’s captains close in like a shield.
‘From “a square fort of but little apparent strength”, as it was once described by a British resident, Qasr Al Hosn became “an imposing castle” in the eyes of American missionary, Rev. Samuel Zwemer, who visited Abu Dhabi in 1901’
A slow, coming of age smile takes over Obaid Al Mansouri’s face as he remembers the happy days of his early childhood.
“Yes, there was a time when I went with my father to see Sheikh Zayed in the old palace. I think I was about five years old,” says the Emirati, now in his 60s.
“In those days it was pretty much the only building in Abu Dhabi; the rest were palm frond huts and some mud houses. Qasr Al Hosn was also the only building to have electricity, from a generator, so I loved going there.”
Like the man himself, Sheikh Zayed’s palace in Al Ain, known by most as Al Ain Palace Museum, is an oasis of calm and simplicity. Its red mud brick arches and walls, reflecting the colour of nearby quartz and iron rich sand dunes, amid lush green palm and mango trees, bring back memories of Andalusia’s beautiful gardens and old palaces. Peeping through tiny windows or small carved wooden doors, Spartan rooms fitted with modest furniture reveal life as it used to be all these years ago.
Long before the recorded history of the young nation we know today as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bedouin tribes would preserve their past, their beliefs and their wisdom in poetic verses. They were passed down, unaltered, from generation to generation. Even today, poetry is at the heart of Arab being, delivered in the dowry chest of each Emirati, poetry of love, passions, belonging, struggle that mould the spirit of each man and woman born of this land.
“A root is a flower that doesn’t like fame,” said once Khalil Gibran, a saying that seems particularly true of Al Ain. The second largest city of Abu Dhabi emirate is one of United Arab Emirates’ most precious heritage gems. Lesser known to foreign and home tourists, the oasis city is home to 7,000 years old archaeological discoveries and 19th century forts that bear witness of the history of the families inhabiting the area for centuries.
The first houses built in Abu Dhabi emirate in the pre-oil era were called Al Arish, the traditional summer dwellings. They were more of a shelter made of palm tree leaves. Al Arish had two parts: the main area, usually 2×4 metres, used for sitting and sleeping; and a smaller space, about 2×2 metres, used for cooking, storage and rising of animals. The Bedouins considered Al Arish their second home after the tent.
The crankshaft, the pinhole camera, the toothbrush, the coffee are all Arab inventions from the dawns of Islamic civilisation to the final years of the Middle Ages. Yes, it is common knowledge that Muslims invented the “zero” and the algebra, but not many know that the first crystal glass came from the hands of an Arab.
A trip off history’s beaten path reveals some of the coolest, lesser-known Arab inventions. One revolves around the extraordinary story of Abbas ibn Firnas.
Discovered by goats, the subject of Turkish death penalty and used to solve Bedouin disputes, Arabic coffee is surrounded by myths and symbolism throughout its history
The Arabs invented not only the three-course meal, but also the beverage to follow it: coffee. Ali ibn Nafi, aka Ziryab (Blackbird), was a singer, oud player, composer, poet and teacher, who lived and worked in Iraq and, later on, in Andalusia of the medieval Islamic period, in the 9th century. Here, he introduced the three-course meal served on leathern tablecloths, insisting that meals should be served in three separate courses consisting of soup, followed by a main dish of meat or fish, then fruit and nuts.
The first cup of coffee was served a few centuries later and it was poured in Yemen, although legend has it the coffee bean was actually discovered by a goat in the neighbouring continent. As the story goes, in the ninth century Ethiopia, a shepherd named Kaldi noticed that his goats became energized after eating leafs and berries from the coffee bean plants. He took the berries to the village imam, but the holy man disapproved of them, saying they are the work of the devil, and threw the berries into the fire. A nice aroma soon spread around and it is said that this was the first ever coffee beans roast.
This Ramadan Cartier launched The Pursuit of Magnificence, a regional campaign inspired by Jacques Cartier’s first trip to the Arabian Gulf in 1912. The French explorer was visiting local shops, residences and places of worships, from The Al Khamis Mosque in Bilad Al Qadeem to the House of Mugbil Al Thukair, a well-known pearl merchant in Bahrain, in search of pearls and new trade partners for his maison’s fine jewellery collections. What he discovered here was not just an abundance of pearls, gemstones and gold, but the deep-rooted, extraordinary relationship Arabs have with jewellery.