Sheikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) is in the historical district of Al Fahidi, formerly known as Bastakiya. Located inside one of the many mud houses with a wind tower, it is neighbored by art galleries and souvenir shops, within the winding alleys of Dubai’s oldest part of town.
A non-profit organization built to bridge the gap and increase the expatriates' understanding of local Emirati culture and traditions, they organize events and cultural outings within and outside the centre. Heritage tours of the local souqs both by foot and by abra (ferry) are a popular activity. Other events include Arabic classes and educational seminars.
During the Holy month of Ramadan, SMCCU hosts iftars (the breaking of the fast meal during fasting) to help non-Muslims get an insight into the significance and importance of fasting for Muslims. Open to the public, a booking must be made in advance. Guests are seated in the traditional manner, on the floor with cushions inside the open courtyard, and are served traditional Emirati cuisine.
The breaking of the fast commences with the eating of a date once the evening athan (call for prayer) is heard. They then witness the prayer ritual before they are served traditional Arabic dinner.
The extensive menu includes Chicken Biryani, rice and chicken cooked slowly together with lentils, black pepper, saffron, nutmeg and cumin topped with caramelized onions; Lamb Biryani – rice and lamb cooked slowly together with lentils, black pepper, saffron, nutmeg and cumin topped with caramelized onions; Harees – slowly cooked meat (lamb or beef) with wheat, spices, and ghee, whipped until it forms a paste; Lamb Fareed – lamb and vegetables cooked in stock until tender, with thin Arabic bread mixed into the broth; Vegetable Margooga – variety of vegetables cooked with lentils and pasta into the form of stew without meat; Salad – variety of vegetables prepared in Arabic style; Lugaimat – round sweet dough balls covered in date syrup; Arabic coffee – lightly roasted coffee infused with cardamom and cinnamon; Arabic Tea – black tea usually taken with sugar; Dried & fresh Dates.
The hosts give detailed information about Ramadan and Islam over dinner and answer any questions the guests may have. Attending an Iftar hosted by SMCCU is the perfect way to assimilate into the Emirati culture and rituals of the Holy Month of Ramadan.
Sheikh Mohammad Centre for Culture and Understanding is located at House 26, Al Mussallah Road, Al Fahidi District, Dubai. Tel: (+971) 4-3536666. For more information visit www.cultures.ae
– Saira Malik
All photos provided by SMCCU