Islamophobia: Small Mercies, Big Fear

Masarat Daud (@masarat)

Masarat Daud (@masarat)

Masarat Daud is many things. A cook, a girl’s education campaigner, a TED speaker, a TEDx curator, a writer, a politically-incorrect humourist, currently based in London and studying MA in Media.
Masarat Daud (@masarat)

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What are the real signs of islamophia that faces practicing muslims in western countries? And how does it really impact practicing muslims who live abroad?

Artwork by Farah Al Balooshi (Instagram: @SenoritaFarah, Twitter: @FarahAlBalooshi)

Artwork by Farah Al Balooshi (Instagram: @SenoritaFarah, Twitter: @FarahAlBalooshi)

The buffer of tolerance in the UAE that we often take for granted is prized when juxtaposed against the so-called, modern Western society. The last five years, having moved to London post-marriage, are indicative of this. In my unintentional social experiment, I continued wearing my abaya and Sheila (lumped together in the Western narrative as the ‘Burqa’).

My practice of Islam is rooted deeply in an Arab cultural context. No part of Islamic practice was odd, be it fasting or wearing the hijab. Even with non-Muslim friends, there was never a need to explain myself or to face judgmental glances or jokes. So in my naivete, I did not pick-up the hints when I was asked, “Will you wear the abaya in London?” “Will you take your scarf off?” I did not understand why I needed to change what I wear simply because I was moving to a new post address.

In the vaguest sense, I must say that it has been an interesting, yet difficult, time. When Lee Rigby was murdered in 2013 by mentally-unstable, radical men, I got a first-hand account of being swept into the backlash against Muslims. The next day after the incident, I remember being on a bus getting home and a little girl, not more than four, got up from the seat next to me and sat on her mother’s lap saying ‘Ewww, I don’t want to sit next to such people”. Her mother made no effort to correct her child and continued staring away. It was the moment I started noticing things such as no one wanting to sit next to me on the tube or the bus, people giving me disgusted looks or people distancing themselves from me, shopkeepers chatting with everyone except when it’s my turn, passers-by making remarks about my dressing and in conferences, people choosing to ignore me.

I stopped going for late evening/night events for a short time. Over these five years, I have found myself becoming aware and alert, even if I am simply grocery shopping for the week. I briefly wondered if this was a way for this manufactured fear to takeover my life. But it was put to rest in early 2014, when Zack Davies attacked a Sikh man with a hammer and a machete as a “revenge for Lee Rigby”. There was a co-relation between the cold stares and glances on the Tube to a media report on a radicalised person. I began reading the news on people’s faces and in their behaviours. The Paris attack of 2015 is our new 9/11. The discrimination that avalanched its way into our lives has renewed itself as the burden of a newer generation.

To understand this fear over the Muslim woman’s dress, we have to look back at 9/11 because it is the watershed moment of current memory. The hijab became a focus for two main reasons: one, its incompatibility with a Western idea of feminism in the loss of a woman’s agency because her body was covered up (or forced to cover, as the Taliban brush was painted over us) and two, the ease at which the hijab symbolised Islam. The veil has existed for at least 2,000 years before Islam, yet it is the easy target of the media’s reductionist treatment of a Muslim identity and eventually, in becoming a sign of everything wrong with Islam.

In the UK, especially with the post-war immigration discourse, where an unreliable, intentional fear-mongering agenda has existed, the immigrants have always been demonised as The Others. Not much has changed in the right-wing narrative since then. When the media pursues an irresponsible and intentional campaign against Muslims, it is hardly surprising to experience the politics of hate. The repercussions are evident in the daily experiences of Muslims, especially the ones who wear their identity.

Having said that, the nuances of being a Muslim in Britain are not recognised enough. The practice of Islam is different because of the cultural influence. For example, in South Asian communities who largely moved in the 1970s, there is a continuation of an obsolete version of culture, mixed with a rigid practice of Islam. This leads to a macro and micro problem—the problem outside of the Muslim circles in dealing with stereotypes and hate, but the problem within the Muslim circles of bringing our lived experiences to 2015 instead of a nostalgic utopia.

The lessons have not been easy, but these are times that have necessitated looking inward. It has taught me patience, but sadly made me realise that I don’t have the luxury to shut myself off when in a bad mood. I must smile at strangers even if they don’t return the gesture or else my presence could threaten or make others shuffle in discomfort. This has lately extended to a public liberty to ask me, whether sitting in a cafe or walking down a street, why I have made the choice to follow Islam and why do I wear the burqa? While I am happy to engage with others and have done so for many years, it is unfair that I cannot do the same to others!

It is tough not to sound cynical but the discrimination is real. It is not playing victim; the rise of the right-wing nationalists and the increase in public hatred are not coincidences. It is strategic. Personally, I am not a big fan of active proselytization and instead, I find it more useful to stop the preaching and start the practicing, not just of religion but of shared human values which is an integral aspect of our Islamic teachings.

Why do I still wear the burqa?

To resist. That is the simplest way to answer this question. My identity as a woman is as important to me as my identity as a Muslim. Will the banning of hijab end the fear politics? The next day, there will be a new fear waiting for us at our doorstep. Islam, for me, is a big lesson of compassion and generosity cracking the harsh, sun-baked mountains of Arabia. We are living in times where big fears need to be countered with small mercies and radical acts of kindness.

The Evolution of Languages

Omar Albeshr (@ASRomar10)

Omar Albeshr (@ASRomar10)

Omar, an Emirati from Abu Dhabi, holds a degree in Avionics Engineering, currently works in tourism. He hopes one day he would publish his novels and his poetry book. His column is an exploration with a message, about the origins of words, terms, phrases and the stories behind them.
Omar Albeshr (@ASRomar10)

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A Language, like everything else, has to evolve to survive. Read the article to learn about languages that resisted change and how it impacted them as opposed to languages that welcomed changes.

Artwork by Aalaa Albastaki (Instagram:@lalaa_albastaki, Twitter: @AalaaAlbastaki)

Artwork by Aalaa Albastaki (Instagram:@lalaa_albastaki, Twitter: @AalaaAlbastaki)

There are many factors that can cause a stir in a language and subsequently influence many of its words to change. That is why nine of the top ten languages in the world have a specialized entity with a sole purpose of regulating and defending the language. The French has Académie Française, the Spanish have the Real Academia Española, Arabic has the Arabic Language International Council, and so on. The only one that does not have such an entity is English, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Let’s take the French academy for example; one of its more recent objectives is to stop English words and terms from invading the French Language. That is why over the past years they have banned certain words and introduced official French alternatives. Such prohibited words as “email”, “blog”, “supermodel”, and many others. (The banned words section is 65 pages long). In 2013, the academy issued a decree banning the usage of the word “Hashtag” and forcing the term “mot-dièse” instead, which caused an outrage on Twitter. One of the reasons is that the term itself is not twitter-friendly because of the hyphen.

Most of these academies are seen as conservative and slow in adapting. Such academies are always struggling and trying to get more people to learn their language. Despite having no such governing body to regulate it, the English language is thriving. There are approximately over 1 billion people currently studying the language as a second or foreign language, with estimations that this number will be close to 2 billion by 2020.

The closest thing the English language has to an academy are Merriam-Webster’s and Oxford dictionaries, but their main aim is to be more comprehensive than anything else. Many people had a fit when the word “Selfie” was legitimized and made its way into the dictionary. Moreover, many grammar-freaks might have a heart attack if they know that they can no longer correct people when they wrongly use the word “literally” when they actually mean “figuratively”, because it was added as a second usage for the word.

Everything changes, so why do some people expect a language to stay static? A language is meant to evolve, to cope with tides in new ages and times. With so many forces pulling and shaping words and semantics, that is bound to eventually happen. Words go from positive to negative and vice versa, and other words take on a narrower meaning or a broader meaning.

One of the more interesting transformations is the word “Nimrod”. It is the name of a great king who was a very skillful hunter. This word changed in meaning because of Bugs Bunny, the Loony Tunes cartoon. Bug’s called Elmer Fudd (his clumsy nemesis) who was trying to hunt him down, in a clear show of insult and irony, as Nimrod, and that caught on over time. It went from meaning a skillful hunter to a dimwitted person because of a cartoon.

Obviously American pop culture has a huge role in altering and making the English language so dominant, thus allowing English words to infiltrate other languages.

To survive, a language needs to evolve and adapt, otherwise the language will die out or people will shift to speak another. Those languages that resisted change are no longer spoken.

One language becomes extinct every fourteen days, and it is expected that half of the languages currently existing will die out by the end of this century. Language is not just a means of communication; it carries the culture and the way of thinking of the people who speak it. The destiny of a language is often very tied with the destiny of the nation that speaks it. The Latin language went down with the Roman Empire, and German was once considered the language of science in the early 1900’s. The current dominance of English was sparkled by the ascension of the British Empire. A lot of people assume that Mandarin will be the language of the future, due to the rise of the Chinese no-longer-sleeping-giant.

Yet that will be very difficult as English has an even greater wave elevating it above other languages. It has become the language of innovation. Almost all new inventions are coined in English, and the top 10 programing languages are English based. Last but not least, all science submissions are currently widely published in English.

So as you can see, even without an official body to protect it and govern it, English is surpassing the rest, for now.

The Glory of UAE

Bahar Al Awadhi (@bahargpedram)

Bahar Al Awadhi (@bahargpedram)

Column Name: The Words Within
Bahar is a recruiter by profession, an aspiring writer by night, and a mom of toddler twins. She has an unending thirst for learning, as she completed her BComm in Canada, an MA in Dubai, and continues to develop herself with reading and research.
With her column, she shares her journey as she grows and learns more about this crazy beautiful world we live in.
Bahar Al Awadhi (@bahargpedram)

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The author looks at how far the UAE has come since its inception and how its people still remain at the core of its development.

Artwork by Aalaa Albastaki (Instagram:@lalaa_albastaki, Twitter: @AalaaAlbastaki)

Artwork by Aalaa Albastaki (Instagram:@lalaa_albastaki, Twitter: @AalaaAlbastaki)

The 44th UAE National Day has just passed and once again we’ve celebrated all the achievements of this great nation. The United Arab Emirates has come a long way since its formation in 1971. Each of the seven Emirates have had their own line up of achievements, albeit some more than others; however, what remains constant is the spirit of hospitality and generosity to the people.

Despite the rising skylines in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, the people remain down to earth, from the leaders to the people. Not many countries can boast about their leaders driving freely in the city or walking through the malls. It is not an uncommon sight to see His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, do just that. This is not a new trend, and in fact, it predates to his late father, Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, who was known for his openness towards the people. I have heard countless tales from my father who spoke of Sheikh Rashid’s approachable nature and of the times they had met him and encountered his friendly greetings.

The city was much smaller then, which allowed for more interaction, but even now, with the increasing distances, you can still sense the camaraderie of the people. This needs to be a collected effort to ensure that the connections are not lost. With less open spaces for children to play, and more housemaids instead of the hosts exchanging the neighbourly treats, there is a risk of losing the human touch. The longer distances and the longer working and school hours may have spread people apart. Nonetheless, in the face of the recent calamities where our brave UAE soldiers lost their lives, it was evident that our country still remains united. When news of the martyrs spread, the entire country grieved and shared in the sorrow of the affected families, even those they may not have known.

This empathy and hospitality isn’t just reserved for Emiratis but for the millions of expatriates who choose the UAE as their home. There is good and bad in every country, and people may criticize and complain about the UAE, but there are many others that love this place like their own. They devote their lives to the UAE and have played a huge part in shaping the country to what it is today. They do so not only because of their dedication and hard work, but for the stability it can bring their families, some of whom may join them in the UAE, and some who have to remain in their home countries.

The UAE has come a long way from the days when it was barely known. When I was a student in Canada about twelve years ago, every time I was asked where I am from, I received confused looks and then had to give a long explanation for them to understand. Today, the UAE is on most people’s must-see destinations list and is frequently heard of on the latest hit TV series. Whether it is the world’s fastest roller coaster, the largest mall, or the tallest structure, the UAE is at the forefront of the world’s top achievements. It is not only the country’s wealth that has put the UAE on the map, but the vision and the determination of our great leaders that has brought us here. With such inspirational leaders guiding us, we can only hope for a greater future for all of us here in the United Arab Emirates.

The Struggle of Innovating While Managing

Sidiqa Sohail (@sid_90)

Sidiqa Sohail (@sid_90)

Column: Musings of An Entrepreneur

Sidiqa is 25 years old and is half-Emirati and half-Pakistani. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the American University of Sharjah and a Master’s degree in Conflict Prevention, Sustainable Peace, and Security from the University of Durham in the UK. Sidiqa owns and manages the boutique-café concept store “Spontiphoria” in Wasl Square, Jumeirah.
Sidiqa Sohail (@sid_90)

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The author explores the dilemma between the need to innovate in order to survive and the need to keep the business currently functioning with daily management tasks.

Artwork by Hayat AlHassan (@HayatAlH)

Artwork by Hayat AlHassan (@HayatAlH)

It is a known fact that all start-ups need to innovate in order to survive. You need to provide something different to the market; a unique experience, a new product, or a novel approach to a service. Without innovation, your time as a business is limited. On the other hand, start-ups are also characterized by the fact that the person who runs it is usually juggling a dozen tasks at a time. It’s a dilemma I’ve been facing lately.

So how do you do it? How can you innovate and handle the daily management at the same time? With my articles and with the experience I have accumulated I talk about the micro-businesses, the small creative start-ups, and the “solopreneurs”. For equally small companies that start with a partner, however, things get a bit simpler because it is easier to divide tasks. One partner is naturally better at all the technical aspects of the business while the other handles the creative side, or as I like to call it, efficient daydreaming.

But with cases like mine and millions of other small businesses where a single individual handles all operational aspects, being able to do both is extremely challenging.

Innovation isn’t a simple task you can add to your to-do list and check off on a daily basis. It is something that requires days of attention and concentration. And because it is a fairly creative process, it requires you to get out of a comfort zone and think outside the box; something you can’t achieve while sitting at your desk surrounded by everything that reminds you of your pending management tasks.

After being stuck in such a situation for a few months I decided that something needed to be done. There was no way I could take time off and “innovate away” at my heart’s content. I had to handle both tasks but with a better balance. I needed to make better use of my time. This ‘epiphany’ of sorts came around the same time I realized that I was wasting a lot of time doing things from scratch over and over again and my mind was as cluttered as my desk.

I needed to systematize things. And then I read articles on how establishing systems in your work environment will eventually mean doing those tasks (such as recording sales and expenses, creating invoices, tracking inventory, having a vendor base) will become an automatic process. I have been working to establish those sorts of systems over the summer and it makes me really happy because it seems as though we have a language of our own, or our own code of conduct.

I still haven’t reached the point where all my systems are completely in place though. I need some more time to get it all set up and for us to become well-acquainted with them; but when that time comes, there will be plenty worry-free time to innovate (I hope!).

With solopreneurship, there will never be an instance where you can completely switch on one side and switch off the other; many small business owners that I know (that may also include myself) will also experience separation anxiety from the comfort of their daily management tasks. But understanding what exactly takes up your time, preventing you from innovating, is the first step towards creating an environment for yourself that is conducive to creativity.

How Impartiality Shaped Me

Nasser AlFalasi (@nassakb)

Nasser AlFalasi (@nassakb)

Column: Just A Nassasary.
Nasser AlFalasi was born the year the cold war ended. For those who don’t know the year the cold war ended, Nasser’s columns in SAIL is exactly for that reason. Nasser’s undergrad was in Financial Services at the Higher Colleges of Technology. He then pursued his graduate studies at NYU, NYC concentrating in global affairs with a specialization in international relations and transnational security. His major interests include history and global affairs. Most of his columns will be in regards to those topics. By the way, if you haven’t already found out the year Nasser was born, its 1991.
Nasser AlFalasi (@nassakb)

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The author talks about his lifelong belief of impartiality and tolerance, and how various experiences in his life led him to where he is now.

Artwork by Aalaa Albastaki (Instagram:@lalaa_albastaki, Twitter: @AalaaAlbastaki)

Artwork by Aalaa Albastaki (Instagram:@lalaa_albastaki, Twitter: @AalaaAlbastaki)

On November 14th 2015 I participated in one of Expo2020’s first youth events, #YouthConnect, that took place in Dubai. This full day event was busy with various speakers, workshops, seminars, comedy shows, and entertainment. Among the brilliant speakers there was Mohammed Saeed Harib the founder of Fareej, and Sara Amiri, the Deputy Project Manager to the Emirates Mars Mission. But there was one speaker whose words and thoughts resonated in me for a few days.

That speaker was Adrian Hayes, a British record-breaking polar explorer and adventurer, keynote speaker, business coach, author and campaigner to sustainability. During his eventful workshop he asked us to share our goals and any challenges we may have faced in our lives, and then to point out the values from the story that defined us.

I started thinking of the numerous challenges and scenarios throughout my life while trying to pick out the most common denominator between all those challenges. While I did not know what my goals were then, I knew what some of my values were. I believe I was able to find just a tiny speck that constitutes the basis of what my values are: impartiality.

My family moved to Australia for seven years when I was in the first grade. During those years I managed to absorb the intercultural, tolerant, diverse values that the Australian society holds. I would attend the school chapel with my classmates every Wednesday, play with an ethnically diverse group of friends, and during our religious education class the teacher would always ask me to share the stories and principles of Islam to my Christian friends as a form of cross-religious understanding. These experiences built the foundation of my impartiality. I grew up to believe that we are all equal human beings regardless of one’s ethnicity or faith, because just as the young school boy me played with kids from different backgrounds, I believe even the adult me can still have the same tolerant value of impartiality.

When I came back to the United Arab Emirates I was somewhat shocked by the educational system and the school environment I was placed in. My recent and young values of impartiality were put to the test, and I was pressured by a social system that did not always share the same value as me. In school I was picked on quite frequently, simply because I was different. Those differences included having lived abroad and knowing how to speak English well. I always refused to discuss or associate myself with backbiting, gossiping, disrespecting adults, and most of all, I never swore or hit back anyone who would irritate me. Throughout the years my impartiality grew and strengthened by various experiences faced in school. I started to believe that just because someone is of the same ethnicity as you that does not give you the right to be biased in your judgement. In addition, I learned the importance of patience and holding on to your values and uniqueness, regardless of what those around you think.

After graduating from school I continued my Bachelor’s degree in Dubai Men’s College. At that point in my life I knew that the impartiality that I have grown deep within me is now to be shared with society, which is why I started to become very active during my studies. From interning at du where I ran and oversaw one of du’s largest Ramadan Iftar initiatives, to being a delegate and master of ceremony to various international events such as Education Without Borders, or the Festival of Thinkers. My impartiality grew even stronger as it started to adapt from intellectual dialogues where it was rejected, questioned, or debated by others. People sometimes fear and find it disrespectful when someone questions or doubts their values, faith, or culture. However, at this point I knew otherwise. I knew that in order for my values to develop and become stronger I needed to be exposed to a more diverse, intellectual atmosphere that my college did not provide. This led me to pursue my master’s degree in a diverse and tolerant city, New York City.

During my two years in New York University studying Global Affairs I started to experiment the impartiality I so strongly believed in. I wrote about it in my essays, talked about it in my class, discussed it with my friends, and most of all tried to live up to it myself. I lived in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world so that I would be able to expose all that I believe in and ask others to oppose it, that it may propagate and grow in strength. I found myself encircled by a very diverse group of friends in regards to ethnicity, gender, religion, ideology, and even personality. I opened myself to the world whereby I attended a Jewish Shabbat dinner and a Hispanic community centre. I knew that the impartiality I grew ever since I was in school was ready to stand up and face the world we see today.

Values are a combination of experiences, knowledge, and culture. The experiences I faced throughout my life as a somewhat international being added towards my understanding of who I am. I am neither Australian nor Emirati, neither black nor white, neither Sunni nor Shiite. My experiences are what made me who I am, and I am a global citizen whose belief in impartiality, tolerance, and understanding were nurtured not by a single ethnicity, religion, or state but by the world as a whole.

AUSMUN Board Members: Different Ideas, Backgrounds, and Goals (@AUS_ModelUN)

Introducing the readers to the American University in Sharjah’s Model United Nations (AUSMUN) Board Members for the year 2016.

AUSMUN Logo

AUSMUN Logo

The American University of Sharjah is a diverse community; the people that make it up have different missions, goals, and visions. As such, it is no surprise that the American University in Sharjah’s Model United Nations (AUSMUN) board is made of students who have different identities, which helps them in forming a brilliant team. You can check the previous articles written on AUSMUN in this link.

The Secretary General and Deputy Secretary General, Omar Al Mutawa and Deema Al Shamsi (respectively), who both facilitate decision making and make sure the conference runs smoothly, are Emirati International Studies Senior students. Omar says that he was introduced to the field of International Relations through Model United Nations (MUN). Omar continued pursuing MUN because of the wide range of skills it helps a delegate build, ranging from public speaking to research and diplomacy to networking. Omar, expressing pride in being a part of AUSMUN, believes it is one of the most vibrant student-led initiatives in the UAE. In high school, Deema’s interest in pursuing an International Studies degree motivated her to partake in MUN. When Deema was in grade 12, she aspired to join the American University in Sharjah (AUS); participating in AUSMUN in high school brought her closer to her dream.

The Director of Logistics, who is responsible for registrations, preparing the pre-conference requirements, Mirna Al Degawy, believes MUN is a great learning environment where students learn and practice their knowledge and their analytical skills. She chose to be part of AUSMUN because she believed it had a unique structure and a way of engaging students from different educational backgrounds and levels.

The Director of Human Resources, Hanan Arab, a Syrian International Studies junior student enjoys taking part in MUN because she feels like it challenges people to adopt points of views and look through perspectives that they may not have. She says that since taking part in MUN in 2009, her horizons have been broadened in ways never imagined before.

Alia Al Hazami and Roudha Ahli are both Emirati students majoring in International Studies, who are the Director of Media, responsible for media coverage and marketing the conference, and the Director of Public Relations, basically the face of AUSMUN, respectively. Alia has been participating in MUN since high school. She says that AUSMUN has changed her life and redirected her interests towards politics and international relations, and led her to dream of representing the UAE in the UN one day. When she joined AUSMUN for the first time in high school, Alia felt a connection and a loyalty to the conference in ways beyond description. Roudha first joined MUN in high school when she realized her combined interest in debate and international affairs. She chose to participate in AUSMUN because of its vibrant student delegations and committed organizers team.

The Director of Research, Shahed Abdul-Dayem, who is in charge of preparing the background guides, believes the skills taught at an MUN conference are indispensable. She views AUSMUN as a great way to understand the working of the UN and to gain research skills.

Yonas Ackholm, the Director of International Relations, who is in charge of contacting international students and promoting the conference internationally, is a dedicated board member. It is his second year of being in this position. Through his collaboration with the rest of the board, AUSMUN managed to get international delegates ranging from Asia to Europe.

The Outreach Program provides the attendees a way to give back to the community and feel they are integrated into the AUS community, even if it is their first time visiting. The director of the program, Sarah Zoubi, is a sophomore majoring in Mass Communication. Her participation in MUN stems from her love of meeting new people. She found AUSMUN interesting because it is one of the few conferences she has attended that combines both high school and college students.

The AUSMUN board has the collective goal of teaching students about major global affairs outside the class. It strongly believes that AUSMUN can offer a wide range of knowledge and skills such as debating, public speaking and researching skills that are applicable beyond the students studies, and can be applied in their daily lives and in their careers later on.

Written by Hanan Arab, International Studies student at American University of Sharjah


To register, or know more, please access our website AUSMUN.org

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Orientalism – Biases in Art

Alia Al Shamsi (@aliaalshamsi)

Emarati Author and Photographer from Dubai. After receiving a BA in Photography from Griffith University she worked as a photojournalist for local newspapers covering regional and international news. In 2008 she gained a MA in Photo-Image from Durham University and has lectured photography as an adjunct at the American University of Sharjah. Her photography has been exhibited internationally and holds awards including: EDAAD Scholarship 2007, British Council Cultural Leadership International 2010 and 2011 Emirates Woman Artist of the Year.
Al Shamsi’s recently published book Alayah by Sail Publishinghas been awarded the support from Dubai Culture part of their printing and publishing movement “Reading in Arabic Challenge”.

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Will art investment grow in the region? What is holding it back, and what do we need to put in place for this industry to grow?

Artwork by Aalaa Albastaki (Instagram:@lalaa_albastaki, Twitter: @AalaaAlbastaki)

Artwork by Aalaa Albastaki (Instagram:@lalaa_albastaki, Twitter: @AalaaAlbastaki)

With museums on the rise, and three key museums just 45 minutes from Dubai by car in Abu Dhabi and another few 45 minutes by plane in Doha, it is definitely the time to start getting serious about art and investing in art. Museum acquisitions seek out new trends and with trends, artworks gain value. My interest in all of this has led me into a 6-week course in Art Investment with Sotheby’s. As part of the course I started going through collections on their online sites, which has led me to a quite peculiar realization: art is not free from bias.

I chose to look at two different lots; collections that are categorized as Islamic art and in specific the Moghul miniaturist paintings, and those that I like to describe as their mirrors, the Orientalist. I found it intriguing that Orientalists fetch more at auctions than artwork that would fall into the Antique/Masters segment.

Let me take you through two examples: Emperor Akbar with a Courtier sold in 2012 for under £ 7,000 in comparison to 2015, The Orientalist Sale which sees The Palace Guard by Deutsch estimated at £800,000–1,200,000.

It surprises me to witness, especially after post-colonialist theory (a theory that aims to deconstruct colonial agendas of economic and social exploitation of colonies), to see more avid collectors opting for orientalists paintings rather than a more authentic representation of the Islamic/Middle Eastern culture (authentic in this sentence is a term I loosely used to describe something that is more representational than artwork created in Europe depicting a phantasmal world of the mysterious East). I would also like to point out that I find it even more so surprising that foreign auction houses continue to categorize both Orientalist paintings and Islamic Art as Islamic Art. Art historians do not group everything under Renaissance Art; we list out the different movements especially when geographically, chronologically and even aesthetically they have little or no commonality between them.

Subsequently, why do buyers find themselves more likely to buy works of arts that represent a mythical representation of the “other” (borrowing from Post-Colonialism here and Edward Said’s Orientalism) than those of a far greater historical significance and created by “the other” themselves? (This is also an ongoing discussion with artworks that fall under handicrafts, a lesser form of art).

Is it in its aesthetic difference that it does not fall into the western style of painting, or is there more than the stylistic aesthetics?

Could one of the factors be the lack of providence in comparison to that of the Orientalist paintings? Or that the region to which it comes from does not have an established art market?

Perhaps these factors are quite valid reasons that Islamic Art still hasn’t been able to hit the auction records. However, more and more museums are opening up in the region in the UAE and Qatar and along with them is a need to acquire more relevant artworks that relate to the region. Another question then arises: is this enough for Islamic Art to start gaining value as an asset?

The museums alone cannot give value to the artworks and it is left to the collectors from the region to give the artworks value. The number of art collectors in the Middle East region is growing, yet not enough to make an impact. Most American states and some European nations have favorable tax treatments for art acquisitions, but in this region, collecting is purely symbolic of a cultural and perhaps sometimes a nouveau-riche practice. Art is taught in some universities in this region, however it remains a questionable profession. This of course does not only impact historically significant works from the region, but also the contemporary art scene, which brings about as an obstacle for cities like Dubai that are trying to enter the arena of art capitals of the world.

Another key factor to the low pricing of art is that of maintenance. Many of these have been stored away in unfavorable conditions, which has led to their fragility. Yet, those that were acquired by the British during the colonial days had a better fate as they were taken into a country that has a history in art restoration, as well as people who had the means to cover such expenses.

In conclusion, this is an insight for anyone looking at acquiring Islamic art, that it is most probably best to buy it from a certified source to ensure its value, as an asset as well as to obtain one in good condition.

Additionally, I would also recommend keeping a close eye to what acquisitions regional museums are adding to their collections. I am forecasting a great sale with The Sven Gahlin Collection and placing a bet on the A Portrait of the Nobleman Holding a Falcon basing on the Mughal exhibition in Doha and expecting bidders from the Abu Dhabi government as well as Doha. Perhaps a few private collectors will also take opportunity to acquire a few artworks themselves, that can give a good turnover in the future if Islamic art becomes a catalyst as a new trend on the art market.

Finally, as part of the conclusion, I would also like to highlight the need for far more awareness in this region from governments and private-led institutions as well as auction houses (such as Sotheby’s and Christies who both have offices in Dubai) to promote art as credible and reliable investment opportunities.


Note:

The article was written a few days before the Sven Gahlin auction and I would like to share that my prediction turned out accurate. The below is sourced from Sotheby’s online review on the auction:

“The sale was led by an outstanding Deccani painting of A Prince Holding a Falcon and Galloping through a Rocky Landscape, from 1680-1700, which achieved a price of £329,000, five times the pre-sale low estimate. This was followed by another impressive work from the Deccan, An assembly of Hindu gods, ascetics and worshippers, Hyderabad or Bidar, early 18th century, which sold for £203,000. The auction realised over £4.5m in total, against an original estimate of £1.9m, selling over 90% of the lots on offer. Buyers came from the USA, Europe, Middle East, India and East Asia, comprising collectors, institutions and new bidders.”

http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/2015/sven-gahlin-collection-l15224.html

Misconception of Women in their Thirties

Cultural expectations at certain ages can cripple our growth, what do we do about them, and how should we handle them?

Artwork by Dana AlAttar (twitter: @DanaAlAttar, instagram: @madewithlove.dxb)

Artwork by Dana AlAttar (twitter: @DanaAlAttar, instagram: @madewithlove.dxb)

To every unmarried Khaleeji girl out there who has been programmed to believe that you must be married before you hit the big three zero, here is a little ray of light to let you know that yes, you are 30 and it’s okay not to be married. This is no declaration of spinsterhood.

While many young women in the UAE today continue to thrive in countless fields and are constantly changing the workforce dynamic, that little voice (which is no Jiminy cricket) in the back of your head keeps whispering “come on, it’s your turn next” tick tock, tick tock. And then, all of a sudden for no apparent reason you break out into a cold sweat and forget everything you have built for yourself up until this point of your life. You forget, that this sudden anxiety is the result of a culturally constructed mental checklist item that has been waiting to be ticked for so long.

It is at this point that you must stop, take a moment to get rid of all the noise in your head and remind yourself that if the Duchess of Cambridge married Prince William just before her 30th birthday, then you really have nothing to worry about! If a Duchess can do it, than you certainly can.

There is a common misconception that once you hit all your culturally expected milestones, you should give yourself a pat on the back and feel reassured that you’ve done it all correctly. But here, my jittery unmarried friends, is when it will dawn on you that you will never find happiness without giving yourself the chance to fully understand and value yourself as an individual being, before sharing it with someone else.

This constant need to get through the marriage bit of your life at the “correct” time is probably the reason so many women forget to appreciate themselves as first and foremost self-governing individuals and contributors of society.

Embracing your current situation, and allowing yourself to enjoy this period of self discovery is probably the best thing you can do for yourself. Lifestyles have changed so dramatically for Arab women, and feeling compelled to go through the same sequence of events your mother or grandmother went through at your age can have crippling self-growth consequences.

Continuously nurturing yourself as a being and working on your happiness as an individual is the best and most empowering thing one could do for themselves. Once you invest your time on living your current moment and bettering yourself everyday, you will fall into a haven of inner peace, where your preconceived ideologies about doing things at a certain age in your life will no longer matter. It becomes about gaining wisdom, realizing that you have a unique opportunity to be accountable only for yourself and going wherever your heart takes you. Everything eventually falls into place once you let out the right energy, and you will be happiest for it when you are happy with yourself.

Article written by Amal Al-Beiti (@AmalAlB)

Accepting the Good and Forgetting the Bad in Change

Abdulla Alwahedi (@Alwahedi)

Abdulla Alwahedi (@Alwahedi)

Column: Emirati Reflections
Abdulla holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and a Master’s in Business Administration. His abstract passion for history and literature with a hint of photography adds to his noble enduring quality. Abdulla enjoys visiting museums, art exhibitions and likes to spend his spare time in the outdoors. His column “Emirati Reflections” is a mixture of stories from the past and insights of the present, which blend together and formulate his understanding of the UAE’s culture.
Abdulla Alwahedi (@Alwahedi)

Latest posts by Abdulla Alwahedi (@Alwahedi) (see all)

The author talks about his experience in dealing with the rapid changes in the society.

Artwork by Dana AlAttar (twitter: @DanaAlAttar, instagram: @madewithlove.dxb)

Artwork by Dana AlAttar (twitter: @DanaAlAttar, instagram: @madewithlove.dxb)

“Our life was much better! I wish things would go back to how they were before.” A sentence I have always heard not only from my parents but also from other elderly people in the family whenever they want to express their dissatisfaction with the changes modern life brought to our society.

I have to admit that throughout my childhood, I didn’t understand their concerns about the rapid changes in the society. Everything around me seemed to be going well, and I have asked myself many times, ‘What is wrong with our life?’. Today, we have cars, roads, schools and hospitals, while twenty or thirty years ago many of our modern life elements didn’t exist. So why are they not happy? What is wrong with our life today? It is definitely better.

Growing up, I recall my parents’ resistance to change becoming even stronger. They kept on reminding me that life in the past was much better than today. As a result I became fearful of change and was more convinced that our society and lifestyle were much better before than today. This belief became evident in my lifestyle and in my writing. To the point that I started acting like an old person.

I didn’t know whether “You are wise for your age” was a compliment or a warning that I’m growing old too fast. Everything around me was changing too fast, but I was holding onto the past, or at least the past as relayed to me by my parents and relatives.

It was not until I completed my psychometric test, as part of a career development exercise, that I realized my resistance to change. The test revealed that I was a person who doesn’t accept change easily. When my coach explained the results, I began evaluating my past actions. I realized that I missed out on many opportunities to make a difference in my life and my career due to my unwillingness to change. From that moment onwards, I decided to look at change more positively and embrace it easily. Yes, the present has its challenges, but it is not as bad as I was portraying it or how it was being portrayed to me.

Today, I can understand why my parents didn’t like the changes in our society. Yes, our social life is not as good as it was, we don’t know our neighbors and we don’t keep in touch with our relatives, but that should not stop us from appreciating the positive impact of change and development in the society since the formation of the UAE’s union in 1971.

Our founding fathers had hope and a vision for the betterment of the society. When the opportunity came, they embraced it and worked hard to bring positive change to the country. We wouldn’t be celebrating our accomplishments today if they were not willing to change. Yes, we may have lost many wonderful traditions due to this rapid change, but that should not act as a barrier in the path of our development. Those traditions are now held in high respect and are slowly being revived and still very much appreciated.

May Allah protect the UAE and its people.