The Arabian Peninsula was settled by the Bedouin people in various tribes across the region. The region became a British protectorate until 1968 and the United Arab Emirates was later formed in 1971. The UAE is composed of seven emirates. Initially, Qatar and Bahrain were also asked to join the union but both countries declined. Each emirate has their own economy and own sheikh. The UAE is a constitutional monarchy, meaning there is the royal family of the sheikh, but they also have a senate. There are twenty senators appointed by the sheikhs and the other twenty senators are elected by the people. The President of the Federation is always the sheikh of Abu Dhabi, where as the prime minister is always the sheikh of Dubai. Sheikh Zayed is considered the godfather of the Emirates and was the sheikh of Abu Dhabi until his death.
Abu Dhabi has a population of 1.6 million people, with 1.2 million of those people being Emirate nationals. Although the population is much less than Dubai, Abu Dhabi covers an area 18 times that of Dubai. While Dubai is the biggest maritime port in the Middle East and is the hub of trading for the UAE, Abu Dhabi houses the governmental buildings and embassies.
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque opened in 2007 and took 11 years to build. It was built by Sheikh Zayed with his own money. It houses the largest handmade carpet in the world covering 7500 square meters and weighing 47 tons. The mosque also contains the sheikh’s mausoleum.
The majority of the Arab people are Muslim and the traditional dress of the UAE nationals include the white tunic and white headdress for men and full black abayas for women. The face covering, or burka, is a Bedouin custom and has nothing to do with the Islamic religion. It was used to keep women’s identity a secret when they were out in the desert shepherding sheep. It is removed for both pilgrimages and prayer. A fascinating side note is that all of the three main monotheistic religions in the world today had some form of head covering for women at some point in the past. The Virgin Mary of Catholicism is never seen without a head covering and Jewish women used to wear head coverings as well. Muslims practice the five pillars of Islam including a pilgrimage to Mecca if financially able, five prayers daily, fasting during Ramadan, giving alms, and believing that Allah is God. Friday is the holy day when Muslims go to the mosque. The minarets, or tall pillars around the mosque, are used for the call to prayer. The domes are for good acoustics, and the crescent moon at the top of the dome is a symbol of Islam, much like the Christian cross.
Qasr Al Watan is a palace used for ruling, not living. It opened in 2017. Emirate nationals are given free health care and free education. The government provides land and housing, as well. There is no way to obtain citizenship unless a person’s parents are both nationals. The enormous wealth of the UAE and nationals themselves dwarfs the poverty of the immigrant community. There is huge controversy regarding human rights violations in the immigrant community.
We went to the 74th floor of the Etihad Towers for a 360 degree view of Abu Dhabi. The towers were used in the most recent Fast and the Furious film.