Encounters with the UAE Cultural Heritage


Since arriving in the United Arab Emirates two years ago, I have witnessed the lightning urban growth, experienced luxury at its finest, and have been amazed by the postmodern and futuristic architecture and the successful diversity management system of numerous glocal (global-local) identities and lifestyles. However, as a university professor and scholar in Middle Eastern Studies, what has blown me away is the rich cultural heritage, including the tangible and intangible components and dynamics, from values, thoughts and memories, to oral history, social practices, rituals, customs, language, folk music and dance, poetry, natural environments, foodways, arts and crafts, and other manifestations of intellectual achievements, knowledge and skills transmitted from generation to generation.

Not everyone feels a connection with cultural heritage. Some may think that folklore, ancient artifacts and traditions are archaic and unnecessary, but encountering the past and its legacy is crucial to understand what shapes today’s society. Understanding, enjoying, valuing and preserving cultural heritage provide a sense of unity in diversity. Cultural heritage is also a source of social memory, a record of the remote roots and patterns of continuities and discontinuities of nations, the result of a selection process of memory and oblivion. As Zbigniew Kobylinski explains it in Cultural Heritage Preservation: “The protection of cultural heritage should therefore not only be the preservation of its authentic historical substance, ensuring its abidance and continuation but it should also involve ensuring that the general public has possibility to be benefited by, and to have active access to the values inherent in this heritage. This ensures that the cultural heritage can participate in the spiritual life of a human being, a social group and a whole nation”.

The United Arab Emirates has fulfilled the two conditions needed to ensure protection of their cultural heritage: an adequate legal and administrative framework, and a deep social consciousness and involvement. Government entities have taken and continue to take several measures to preserve the Emirati cultural heritage and to create awareness about it, in particular through establishing museums and heritage villages, forming clubs, holding festivals and events, organizing exhibitions and book fairs, and financing archeological expeditions and excavations. Ancient artifacts – including a large collection from the Stone Age and Paleontological fossils – are displayed in numerous museums as well as online – virtual platforms.

Grassroots and individual/collective private initiatives also contribute to the ethics of cultural heritage’s care, whether through formal or informal channels. Heritage education is an important component of the courses I teach for instance, from Islamic Art and Architecture to Cultures and Religions of the Middle East. My classes encompass individuals from diverse ethnic, religious and national backgrounds. When students tell the stories of their different perceptions and experiences in Al Fahidi historical neighborhood in Dubai, the museum of Islamic Civilization in Sharjah, the oldest mosque in Fujairah, the Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival in Abu Dhabi, the breathtaking scenery of Jebel Jais, or through learning the steps of the Ayyala, reciting the poetry of Ousha Bint Khalifa Bin Ahmad Al Suwaidi, cooking Machbous, Harees, Raqaq and Chebab, and drinking Arabic coffee, they share visceral encounters with both the contemporary Emirati culture and its foundations; encounters that bring alive the layers of history, hopes, dreams, struggles and achievements.

These encounters and many others help preserve the local cultural heritage through inclusion, immersion, conviviality and transmission, and at the same time celebrate cultural diversity in dialogue. They contribute to the understanding that cultural boundaries are not necessarily well-defined, and that human history is made of mutual influences, interpenetrations, cultural appropriations and fusions. Encountering the United Arab Emirates cultural heritage reminds us that what matters is how we engage in historical acts; what matters is that identities are both situated and open-ended, and that heterogeneity constitutes a potential common ground for cross-cultural understanding.


An Interreligious Tour in Abu Dhabi

AUD students enrolled in the MEST 350 Religions of the Middle East visited three churches and a mosque in Abu Dhabi with Assistant Professor in Middle Eastern Studies Dr. Pamela Chrabieh on Saturday, March 26, 2016.

The first stop was at the Saint Andrew’s Center, an Anglican compound with more than 40 Christian worshipping groups, built in 1975. Students visited the Saint Nicholas Greek-Orthodox church that has worshippers from many Arab countries – mostly Palestinians, Syrian and Lebanese – with masses combining Arabic and Greek. There are more than 700 Abu Dhabi families registered with this church, and Greek Orthodox Christians are building a Cathedral in Mussaffah to accommodate the growing community. Saint Nicholas church includes a magnificent iconostasis and icons from Greece. Students had the opportunity to learn about Saint Nicholas, to discover liturgical and theological elements of one of the Patriarchate of Antioch’s Churches, and compare them to Catholic features.

They then visited the Seventh-Day Adventist church in located in the same compound. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church is a Protestant Christian denomination distinguished by its observance of Saturday, the 7th day of the week as the Sabbath, and its emphasis on the imminent Second Coming or Advent of Jesus-Christ. Students observed one part of the Saturday service that included a sermon, singing, scripture reading and prayer.

Lastly, students visited the Saint Andrew’s Anglican church that clearly presents a different layout in terms of architecture and religious symbolism, with its high ceilings to accommodate large windows, allowing light to flood the church as a reminded that “God’s Church is the Light of Christ in the world”. Saint Andrew’s congregation is a member of the Worldwide Anglican Communion and part of the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf.

The second stop was at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This mosque was initiated by the late president H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who wanted to build a place of worship which unites the cultural diversity of the Islamic world, as well as the historical and modern values of architecture and art. It is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates. Its design and construction uses artisans and materials such as marble stone, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics from many countries, including Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, China, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Greece and United Arab Emirates. Open to both Muslims and non-Muslims, the mosque plays a pioneering role in intercultural and interreligious dialogue, in addition to abiding to the teachings of Islam in order to spread peace.

According to Dr. Chrabieh, “Although Islam is the official religion of the country, the United Arab Emirates have always advocated freedom of religion. The constitution guarantees the ‘freedom to exercise religious worship in accordance with established customs, provided that it does not conflict with public policy or violate public morals’ (Article 32). Religious minorities include Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Baha’i and Druze. Places of worship range from churches to Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Sikh temples. The story of these communities in the United Arab Emirates challenges the stereotypes people elsewhere have of Southwestern Asia and Islam. It is a story that needs to be told more – that of tolerance, mutual respect and conviviality”.


Collaborative Learning in a University Classroom

Dr. Pamela Chrabieh shares her methods used in her series of workshops and class activities
Dr. Pamela Chrabieh, Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern studies at AUD has a different approach to teaching. She focuses on Collaborative Learning, and explains below, how she applies it in her classes, including Islamic Art and Architecture, Religions of the Middle East and Religions of the World courses.


Collaborative learning is a method of teaching and learning in which students are invested in their own learning while they work together; diversity is celebrated, all contributions valued (students and teachers) and skills are acquired for resolving conflicts when they arise. This method differs from traditional teaching approaches because students do not compete with each other individually but learn how to factor in each other’s’ ideas, how to relate to their peers as they work together in group settings (interpersonal development), how to enhance their social skills, and how to search for common grounds between worldviews and practices while they learn to respect the differences.

In a world where being a team player and a sociable agent is often a key part of business success, collaborative learning is very useful, and is also perceived as an esteemed means to an end – that Higher Education is not only about delivering-sharing a content; “it’s about cultivating habits of mind that are the underpinnings of deeper scholarship”, “it’s about empowering and enabling students’ resilience – how do you look to your neighbor as a resource, how do you test your own theories, how do you understand if you’re on the right track or the wrong track?” (Monique DeVane).

According to Natalie Nixon, Director of the Strategic Design MBA at Philadelphia University and Principal of Figure 8 Thinking, LLC, there are five reasons why collaboration is important for the growth of one’s business:

  1. Self-awareness: the honestly about your strengths and weaknesses when working with others can force you to ask for help when necessary and be brazen about how you can help others.
  2. Scale: more effective problem solving happens when you combine resources in talent, experience, finances and infrastructure. In other terms, understand that your individuality is a part of a greater whole.
  3. Creative Abrasion: abrasion is a process of wearing down through friction. We typically associate friction with something negative, but friction in its purest form, is energy. So why not convert that energy that comes from working with people who are different from you, into something positive?
  4. Take the long view: sometimes things don’t work out well when you collaborate with others, no matter how hard you try, how patient you are, and how well you listen. But does that necessarily mean you never attempt again to work with that organization? Take the long view about perceived failures… While an initial project may not do well, the partnership may still be salvageable.
  5. Learn, learn and learn some more! Collaborating propels your firm to become a learning organization, a popular phrase right now that refers to organizations which have cultures of ongoing learning, and structures that support that learning through safety nets for failure, and opportunities for growth in all aspects of employees’ lives.
In the Architecture and Islam workshop I designed for the Fall 2015 and Spring 2016 semesters (MEST 329 Islamic Art and Architecture), members of a group are required to articulate their competencies, therefore distill what they are great at – and what they do poorly (sketching, researching, analyzing, working with software…) – while gathering, analyzing and presenting a written and visual content on mosques, mausoleums and palaces built during the Umayyad, Abbasid, Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires, as well as on contemporary architecture of mosques and futuristic models.

In the Christians in Southwestern Asia workshop for instance (MEST 350 Religions of the Middle East), students combine their individual research projects (phase I) on the current situations of Christians in Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, GCC, etc. and produce a common discourse (phase II) based on interdependency. Following the workshop, they realize that a group, an institution, a society thrive where there are diverse and complimentary identities and systems that enhance each other’s lives and management.

Sometimes students work together according to certain interests, but I usually try to mix them so they would learn to work with different types of people. Class activities’ goals as designed for the WLDC 301 Religions of the World course include in particular students from different religious/non-religious backgrounds working together to identify what could be complimentary about their different worldviews, and the intra-religious and inter-religious differences they are tackling – when studying together for instance the subject of Kashrut in Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism, comparing Kosher with Halal, and drawing on each other’s perceptions and experiences.

Sharing information and dialogue inevitably help students to acknowledge cultural/religious differences and better understand other cultures, religious and points of view, especially when the personal story sharing component is included in the plenary session. Collaborative activities indeed involve the construction of new ideas based on personal and shared foundations of past experiences and understandings – applying here some of the principles of constructivism. When the WLDC 301 students are asked to search individually, then collectively for the definitions of exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism as three of the main perspectives/positions in theology of religions, they are also asked to reflect on the content of the definitions by drawing back on their own experiences.

Each time a student collaborates with others, he/she finds himself/herself in a setting that optimizes his/her capacities to extend beyond the comfort zone, grow a variety of intelligences (theory of multiple intelligences by Howard Garner), acquire a deeper understanding of content, increase overall achievement in grades, and in turn, stretch the boundaries of the classroom. According to Garner, we can improve education by addressing the multiple intelligences of our students: verbal-linguistic, mathematical-logical, musical, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist and existential.

Most students become usually highly motivated to remain on task, to actively construct content, to take ownership of their own learning and to pursue the search for knowledge, as indicated in their end-of-semester qualitative evaluations of the courses. It goes without saying that encouraging student-student thinking is paired with the development of strategies necessary for the inclusion of critical-level thought. Clear questions are identified at the outset and I make sure to show how these questions relate to students’ interests and abilities, and to the teaching goals and learning outcomes of the courses.

Furthermore, collaborative learning is used in conjunction with other educational methods and techniques, and it certainly helps students construct knowledge rather than only reproduce a series of ‘facts’- regurgitate information. Through problem-solving, inquiry-based, story sharing and experiential activities, students are challenged to actively engage in the learning process. While being guided by the professor, they are provided with tools to formulate and test their ideas, draw conclusions and inferences, pool and convey their knowledge, articulate and defend their ideas, create their own conceptual frameworks and not rely solely on an expert’s or a text’s framework, and link their existing knowledge and real-world experience to the content of the course and class activities’ goals.

As I see it, it’s about intellectual gymnastics in a dialogic setting where positive interdependence is valued and experienced.




Peace Education in Lebanon: A Case Study in the University Context

“Research is meant to be disseminated far and wide and not to be shackled by copyright restrictions that benefit nobody except the coffers of publishing houses” (Mark Bridge)

Announcing the publication of my paper ‘Peace Education in Lebanon: A Case Study in the University Context’ in the refereed International Journal of Arts and Sciences, Volume 8, No. 7, 2015, p. 201-213.

The article may be accessed at http://universitypublications.net/ijas/0807/index.html.


AUD Professor Leads Discussion on Religion-State Relations in the Middle East

Dr. Pamela Chrabieh talks democracy, democratic institutions, citizenship and advocacy

Dr. Pamela Chrabieh, Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at AUD and a member of the Christian Academic Forum for Citizenship in the Arab World (CAFCAW) Executive Committee, met her peers during a workshop on Lebanese Youth and Citizenship held in Beirut recently.

Dr. Chrabieh comments, “The gathering of Middle Eastern Christian and Muslim scholars, religious leaders, media figures and politicians, initiates a regional dialogue between academicians from diverse backgrounds and identities, who debate issues related to religions-politics’ relations, interfaith dialogue, Christians’ roles and situations as well as theology of public life, and propose alternative worldviews, narratives and projects facing the culture of violence.

The CAFCAW forum was part of the ongoing academic work of the Executive Committee on the Religion-State relations in the Middle East, and on the roles of diverse stakeholders and activists in diversity management. The workshop gathered more than 25 young Lebanese and included trainings and conferences tackling the subjects of democracy, democratic institutions, citizenship and advocacy.


This meeting and workshop followed 4 previous events held in 2014 and 2015 in Amman, Istanbul, Beirut, and Cyprus. Future initiatives include a Middle-Eastern Youth Conference in Cyprus in April 2016 and the publication of the July 2015 Conference proceedings.

About the Christian Academic Forum for Citizenship in the Arab World (CAFCAW)
CAFCAW is a forum that aims to provide a more public voice for Christians and interreligious dialogue in the Arab world. The association was established at its inaugural meeting in February 2014 in Istanbul under the Diyar Consortium, a Lutheran-based, ecumenically-oriented organization serving the whole Palestinian community, with emphasis on children, youth, and women. CAFCAW convened its second meeting in Istanbul in June 2014. CAFCAW’s third conference held on 5 and 6 December 2014 in Beirut served to create broad support among Christian and Muslim academics, stakeholders in interreligious dialogue, civil society and policy makers.

For more information on CAFCAW please click on the following link http://www.cafcaw.org


– Source: AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN DUBAI NEWS http://www.aud.edu/news_events/en/view/1068/current_upcoming/aud-professor-leads-discussion-on-religion-state-relations-in-the-middle-east#sthash.MsOUvd7o.dpuf

Welcome to my new blog!

Welcome to my new main blog. I post about my academic work in religions, cultures and politics in Southwestern Asia.

Old posts from 2006 till October 2015 are found in http://pchrabieh.blogspot.ae/

Posts about my artwork are found in http://eykouna.blogspot.ae/

My online writings about women’s rights are published in a platform I founded in 2012 http://www.redlipshighheels.com/

I publish my AUD students’ artwork on a regular basis since Spring 2015 – Peace Art in Dubai: http://peaceartdubai.blogspot.ae/

Please enjoy and let me know what you think either by commenting on posts or sending me an e-mail (see the Contact page).