Although the world is interconnected, our relationship with neighbors is not as strong as it used to be. With that, we have lost the sense of neighborhood that we used to have in the UAE.
Moving into my own house was one of my dreams coming true back in 2008. My little family was so excited that we finally got to have our own house after living for so long in different apartments. The neighborhood was fairly new and not many people lived there, but the basic services were available. Not to mention a little grocery store close enough to our house.
Being from Ras Al-Khaimah, I didn’t know my new neighbors in Dubai. That wasn’t an issue as I thought that we will eventually get to know them. In fact one of the benefits of being raised in a small city is that you get to know people quickly. Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out to be as I had expected.
On my second day in the new house, my eldest daughter came running to tell me that a man was waiting for me outside. I wasn’t sure who it was as I was not expecting visitors. After a quick handshake he introduced himself and welcomed me to the neighborhood. He was actually my immediate neighbor. With him came many boxes of fruits and other household goods, in addition to big plates of food that was more than what my little family would eat. I thanked him for the hospitality and I was so happy to know that I have a good neighbor.
His actions were no surprise to me as it is a custom here in the UAE to welcome new neighbors and provide assistance during happy and sad events. Respecting neighbors and assisting them is not only a cultural practice, but also a virtue that has roots in Islam. On many occasions, Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) emphasized on maintaining a good relationship with neighbors regardless of their faith or origin or even actions. History tells us that the Prophet had a Jewish neighbor who would put rubbish on a daily basis in front of the Prophet’s house to annoy him and the Prophet knew it was him. One day, the Prophet didn’t see any rubbish as usual and when he asked about the Jewish man, he was told that he was sick. The prophet went to visit him and that visit alone convinced the Jewish man to convert to Islam.
In my neighborhood, it is quite unfortunate that since the first day I moved I have not seen my friendly neighbor except occasionally while going to work, we would wave hands at each other and then part ways. I don’t know whether it was me or my neighbor who didn’t work on building the relationship. The only excuse I have is that my long working hours have affected my social life and during the weekend I’m either busy with my family or visiting my parents in Ras Al-Khaimah.
Many years ago this would not be possible. The social bond between neighbors was stronger to the point that a neighbor would take the role of the father in case he was away. My friends were the neighbor’s kids. My mother’s friends were the neighbor’s wives. Food plates would go to neighbor’s houses before us. Many of those cherished traditions were lost as a result of the modernization of societies. We no longer know our neighbors. I don’t allow my kids to play alone outside the house and I would be concerned if I see them talking to strangers.
Our houses are bigger and we take good care when designing the guest rooms, but we don’t have any guests. I’m sure my neighbors feel the same way. I wish I can make a difference in our social life and bring back our old traditions.
For the time being, I can only hope that my neighbor would read these lines. Dear Neighbor, please come and knock on my door. I really want to meet you. Until then, take care and see you soon.
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.