In late January 2015, a tour of the Old Dubai area brought the Teach UAE Magazine team to the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Center for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU). We were fortunate to meet the inimitable and personable Nasif Kayed, who hosted a fantastic brunch during which he animatedly regaled us with rich cultural anecdotes.
Nasif has enjoyed an extensive career as an entrepreneur who has developed a number of successful businesses. He has turned his sights to philanthropy and is presently the managing director at SMCCU.
The aim of SMCCU is to promote awareness and understanding of the local culture among visitors and residents of Dubai. Established in 1998, SMCCU has grown into a hub for open cultural discussions. It is considered a first stop for many who are either visiting or beginning their residence here. SMCCU sets the stage for their experience in the UAE, learning firsthand about the culture and dispelling common myths or preconceptions that one might have about the ‘why’ behind the traditions, religious practices, and culture in this region.
Below Nasif answers some important questions relating to the SMCCU and the culture of the region.
The education landscape of the UAE has changed significantly over the years, what are two major changes that you have observed?
Reflecting on the environment of teaching and schools structure from my time, I would say that there is a definite change. We were so eager to learn and the teachers were committed to teaching. Their mission was more altruistic, creating and developing these young minds not only in knowledge but also in character. Our facilities were modest, and this is where the greatest change has occurred. The infrastructure and availability of educational choices have improved dramatically. Today we have better facilities, more technology and opportunities. Despite this, we sometimes see a lack of commitment from students and families these days. There is also a lack of commitment from some of the teachers to help to change the attitudes of the students and families to commit to learning. Our leaders from Sheikh Zayed to date have provided us with the tools to have a first class education system, the best in the region. So, we must work harder as individuals to match these first class opportunities with first class attitudes.
Who was your favourite teacher and why?
My favourite teacher was my toughest. I used to struggle with my Arabic grammar, and he would say, “You might not master the grammar, but you must master speaking it and writing it to be effective in your life.” This encouraged me to strive in life to always find a way to compensate for where I fall short or may have a weakness, which in return has helped me in English and many other areas in my life.
Share with us two common misconceptions about Emirati people and culture that others may have that you would like to correct?
The first thing is that we are not all oil rich. Therefore, money is not handed out to each and every one of us as perceived. Our forefathers had humble beginnings. We were fisherman, pearl divers, farmers, shepherds and traders. Our government helps the citizens by creating access to education, healthcare and assistance programmes to be utilised by those who need it. The philosophy of our nation is that no one should be homeless, go to sleep hungry, or be deprived of the basics to live a decent life with dignity. As such, we have many programmes similar to social security.
What might be different in our culture is that we offer to assist our citizens in the start of their life rather than aid them once they have aged and can’t help themselves much. In our culture and the teachings of the faith, elderly people are the family’s responsibility not the government.
The second common misconception is that women don’t have rights; they don’t have equal access to education, and we tell them what to wear and so on. The truth is that the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), spoke extensively about the elevated status of women, and accordingly the Quran mentioned these rights more than 1400 years ago. Women are equal in personal responsibility, opportunity, rewards and punishment. Side by side with the man today, the Emirati woman contributes a great deal to the well- being of our society, and hold great positions in the government and private sector alike. We do not tell them what to wear, as most men would agree with me, we prefer not to cross that line.
How can Emiratis pass on important traditions to the younger generation?
Values: Spend time with them and teach them the values, and moral systems of our forefathers.
Hospitality: Exemplified in the way we welcome all nationalities into our home UAE.
Modesty: Exemplified in the way of our traditional dress that was meant to make us all equal regardless of our financial status or class, unlike today.
Honesty: Dealing with people in the same way you would like to be treated, exemplified in our greetings of peace shared with everyone regardless of their gender, colour or status.
Hard Work: Determination and perseverance must be instilled in our children as it was instilled in us.
What programmes does the SMCCU have for educators and students to access the wealth of information that is being offered there?
The SMCU has a host of programmes specially designed for educational institutions. Bespoke cultural induction programmes are provided for new and returning staff and teachers. SMCCU also participates in educational conferences for the benefit of all those teaching in the UAE. We provide bespoke cultural programmes for schools. Students not only to learn about Emirati culture and history but they also have a chance to reflect on their own cultural norms, and find commonalities among the many nationalities that call the UAE home.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has outlined a number of innovative projects aimed at positioning Dubai and the UAE as a global leader in various industries. What is the one thing that you would like the world to know about your country?
The UAE is a place where people are accepted for who they are. It is a place where you can prosper and advance, where you feel safe and where there is justice and protection (equal) for all.
What is the best advice that you have received? How has it helped you?
My dad (may God have peace on his soul) always said, “When you do something do it right, strive for perfection.” I am driven by this striving for perfection, in all that I do, may Allah help and accept, Ameen.
Our tour of the SMCCU facilities provided us with an authentic platform to learn about the culture of the United Arab Emirates and the region. We highly recommend that you take the tour and do not miss the brunch!
For additional information on SMCCU visit http://www.cultures.ae/
By Carolyn Lee