Arts & Culture The Identity Issue

7 great things about being a Gulf Arab

A listicle to help overcome the misconceptions about Khaleejis.

By Dana Al Rashid

The arts and culture scene is growing in the region. Artwork by Emirati artist Alia Al Hammadi.

This story is brought to you by Dr. Rocco’s Specialized Dental Center in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

We, Gulf Arabs (Khaleejis), get such a bad rep in the international media. It’s just unfair. There are huge misconceptions about us out there, and wonderful overlooked qualities about us as people. To help overcome this, here are seven things that I love about being Khaleeji that I think the world should know more about:

1. We are extremely hygienic

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that we are some of the cleanest nations in the world. Our houses are extra clean, and so are our shops and restaurants. Personal hygiene is extremely important to us— I just can’t emphasize it enough! We always wash with water after using the toilet, and we always use loofas when showering. The practicing Muslim will perform ablution five times a day as well. We are well known for smelling great, thanks to Arabian oud, incense (also known as bukhoor) and oriental perfumes. We also use bukhoor all over our houses, which gives them soothing, delightful smells.

2. We are very helpful

Even the most difficult person will go out of their way to help you if you’re in need. This is especially true of the Bedouins. It’s sad to see some “modernized” Khaleejis gradually let go of this habit. Still, generosity is alive and well here.

And this is not because we are wealthy nations, for Arabs used to host strangers passing by in the desert since the early days of history. There are countless recorded tales of Arab hospitality in history and folklore that even predate Islam. Hatem Al Taie is a famous pre-Islamic example. He was known for his vast generosity and eloquent poetry, and people still aspire to be like him to this day.

Arabs used to—and still—share their food, shelter and go out of their way to make sure a guest is well taken care of, even if this means skipping meals and borrowing money from friends. I feel that our physical wealth today is karmic, and is a reflection of our inner generosity and bountiful souls.

It is considered extremely rude to “remind” a person of all the good things you’ve done for them just to make a point when conflict arises (I am cringing just thinking about it)! As an old Khaleeji proverb goes, “Do good and throw it in the sea” (meaning do good and don’t ask about it later) .

3. We have strong family bonds

This artwork by Alia Al Hammadi shows a grandmother asking her granddaughter to massage her legs.

 We take good care of the elderly. Even if your parents were far from perfect (and I mean very far), you are obliged to take care of them when they are old and sick. The very least you could do is hire someone to help care for them at home, especially if they need medical assistance. Nursing homes do exist, but they are generally for the elderly who have no family left, with most of them being immigrants who have lived here their entire lives and can’t go back. Of course, there are some locals who would leave their elderly parents behind in nursing homes, but this is very frowned upon by society and is usually indicative of a big problem within the household that chooses this option.

Our parents took care of us in the best way they knew when we were young and helpless. They didn’t institutionalize us because they were “busy”, or “life got in the way”, so it’s only fair to pay them back with care later on. 

In hyper-consumerist societies, people are seen as commodities, products with an expiry date. The expiry date comes when they can no longer work for grueling hours. For women, they “expire” when they lose their beauty. For us, we respect our elderly and learn from their valuable experiences, and make sure they stay dignified till their very last day.

4. The basics are for free!

GCC countries provide free healthcare for their citizens. A number of states also either subsidize medical costs for expats, and/or even provide them for free in certain circumstances. Public schools are also free for citizens. Undergraduate level education is even available either for free or at a nominal fee, for locals at public universities, should they choose to continue their studies (which is the case for most locals here). In the UAE, for example, 95 percent of all females and 80 percent of males who are enrolled in the senior year of secondary school choose to apply for admission to a higher education institution.

5. Contrary to popular misconception, the GCC is one of the safest regions in the world

We have almost no shoplifters here, serial killers are unheard of and the crime rate is very low. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum Report in 2018, the UAE scored as the 9th safest country in the world, with Oman in the 4th place, and Qatar in the 19th. I have never been mugged in my life and, as a woman, I am able to safely walk by myself unharmed virtually anywhere here, even late at night. Natural disasters, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, are rare, which makes the region very safe and stable.

This artwork by Alia Al Hammadi depicts the many forms of greetings and welcome a person could receive in the region.

6. We enjoy an excellent geographic location

The Arabian Peninsula is located in the heart of the Old World, which has made it a melting pot for different cultures throughout the centuries, creating a very colorful and rich diversity. People from the Gulf used to sail their modest wooden ships as far as India and Zanzibar for trade, selling their pearls and dates for fabrics, spices and other exotic goods. This shows Gulf Arabs’ excellent sailing and navigation skills, as well as an incredible resilience during those arid, difficult times. Nowadays, we still enjoy the benefits of our prime geographic location. It’s not too long a trip to many cities in Asia, Africa, or even Europe.

7. The arts and culture scene here is great

 Even though still young, the scene is currently booming with music, art, poetry and film, mostly led by young pioneers, many of whom are starting their own e-zines, producing their own music, hosting shows and much more. Various initiatives are sprouting across the Gulf, and there are many examples. The Divan Cultural Collective in Kuwait hosts a variety of activities, such as book discussions, movie nights, as well as music jams for emerging artists. Unootha Magazine from the UAE highlights the writings and artwork of women from the MENA Region, while Myrkott animation studio from Saudi Arabia creates cartoons with thoughtful content that receives millions of hits.

 These creatives have such a special place in my heart because it takes a lot of effort and inner strength to introduce new concepts to the region while successfully preserving traditional values. The result of this effort is often a new approach to the arts, and a fresh perspective that is only recently getting its chance to be heard.

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.

Dana Al Rashid is a Kuwaiti writer and artist. She has a weekly column in Al Jarida Newspaper, and she also writes and illustrates for several independent magazines.