Dubai is known to the world as a luxury city with towering skyscrapers and vast desserts. But like every entity and empire in the world, a luxury city as popular as Dubai also started from somewhere and with the helping hands of someone.
How did Dubai become a megacity? Let’s demystify the history of Dubai, then and now.
Dubai Today – A Bustling Metropolitan
Dubai is the largest, most populous, and commercially successful city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It makes up one of the seven emirates today, standing alongside Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Umm al-Qaiwain, Fujairah, Ajman, and Ra’s al-Khaimah.
Dubai grew into a bustling metropolis in the early 21st century, focusing on tourism, hospitality, aviation, real estate, and trade. It welcomes tourists from all over the world as it now houses record-breaking establishments, starting from the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building worldwide, and Burj Al Arab, which is dubbed as the only seven-star hotel in the world. Dubai is also known as the second city with the most five-star hotels.
Today, the city remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in the UAE and worldwide. It is currently home to over 3 million locals and still welcomes approximately 15 million tourists every year.
Truths and Facts About Dubai
The history of Dubai is backed by small yet significant details contributed by its people, such as its name, leaders, customs, and traditions. Here are the truths and facts that made Dubai an inclusive city we all know today.
How Did Dubai Get Its Name?
Many theories emerged regarding how Dubai got its name. None of them was proven and recognized by the ruling government and dynasty in the city, but all explanations and backgrounds make sense.
One theory suggested that the word Dubai originated from the Arabic word “daba”, which means “to creek”. The theory refers to the current flow in Dubai Creek, a saltwater creek that acts as a part of the Dubai Canal. Another theory claims that it may have come from an Arabic proverb that says “Daba Dubai”, which means “They came with a lot of money.”
One popular theory cited by many is the explanation of poet and scholar Ahmad Mohammad Obaid, which claims that Dubai came from the alternative meaning of the Arabic word for “baby locust” because of the abundance of locusts in the city before settlement.
Who Founded Dubai?
Many people were responsible for the founding of Dubai, as well as the freedom and luxury locals and tourists enjoy today. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan is considered the founding father of the country and the very person responsible for the union of the seven emirates and the formation of the UAE. He is fondly referred to as the Father of the Nation.
Supporting Sheikh Zayed’s mission and vision is the Al Maktoum family, which has been ruling Dubai since 1833. Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum was responsible for the formation of the modern emirate of Dubai. He also co-founded the UAE with Sheikh Zayed.
Who is the Current Ruler of Dubai?
The Al Maktoum family continued the legacy of Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid. Today, at the time of writing, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum currently stands as the Vice President, Prime Minister, and Minister of Defence of the UAE and the ruler of the Emirate of Dubai. He earned the position after the death of his brother, Sheikh Maktoum.
The current ruler led and helped develop the numerous projects that solidified Dubai as one of the wealthiest cities in the 21st century. Sheikh Mohammed oversaw the establishment of Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City, the Dubai International Finance Centre, the Palm Islands, and the record-breaking Burj Khalifa and Burj Al Arab.
What are the Languages in Dubai?
Since Dubai has a rich history, there are many languages and dialects spoken in the city. The official language of Dubai is Arabic, and there are many variations of this language across the city. Modernized standard Arabic is the official language used for all government texts and media content. A variation known as Gulf Arabic or Khaleeji is also spoken in other parts of the city.
Another commonly used local language in Dubai is Egyptian Arabic or Masri, the vernacular Arabic dialect of Egypt. Masri in Dubai has a local touch because of Arabic speakers from the Maghreb, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries.
Outside Arabic, English is also a commonly spoken language in the city. The foreign language became prevalent because of the rising number of expats who speak English as a native or second language. There are English-translated texts in public places to help tourists and immigrants navigate their way.
Other foreign languages tourists and locals can encounter in public places are Mandarin, Hindi, Urdu, Tagalog, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, and Farsi.
What Are the Religions in Dubai?
As a melting pot, Dubai is home to various religions. The six most prevalent religions in the city are Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Judaism (in order of prevalence).
Islam is the official and largest religion in the city. At the time of writing, approximately 76% of the population in the country are Muslims. Christians take up 12.6% of the population and Hinduism 6.6%; the remaining percentage belongs to the aforementioned religions and other faith traditions.
Since many locals are Muslims, they follow the teachings of Allah, the one God, and the principles of prophets like Adam, Abraham, Noah, Moses, John the Baptist, David, Jesus, and Mohammed. Islam’s sacred text is the Koran (or Qur’an), which carries the revelations of Mohammed. Muslims also guide their actions through Mohammed’s own actions, the Hadith.
What Are the Unique Customs and Traditions in Dubai?
There’s no denying that tourists and expats have transformed the city into a melting pot, but the locals have managed to keep Dubai and the UAE’s customs, culture, and traditions alive. Despite the modernization of the city, some things remain the same.
Customs in the UAE mainly follow the religion of Islam and traditional Arab culture—both are present in today’s Dubai and can be seen in aspects like architecture, music, fashion, cuisine, and lifestyle. Islam alone is integral to the local culture.
As such, many parts of the city are traditionally conservative. Locals and tourists should strictly follow dress codes. But besides conservativeness, Arabian hospitality is also central to Emirati’s culture. Locals traditionally welcome visitors by offering Arabic coffee or gahwa.
History of Dubai – A Timeline From 1833 to 2000s
Dubai has come a long way. Like everything else in the world, it started small. It started with something and someone. Let’s trace back its footsteps and see how Dubai became one of the world’s powerhouse cities today.
The Settlement of Nomadic Cattle Herders (3000BCE to 5th century CE)
Dubai can first trace its roots back to the Early Minoan period of the Minoan Bronze Age, the period that chronicled the rise of the Minoan civilization from the island of Crete in Greece. History said that the site of the city used to be a large mangrove swamp. The swamp dried up and was discovered by Bronze Age nomadic cattle herders, who were considered as the first residents in the area. The first residents were responsible for establishing agricultural lands, like palm plantations.
The Entry of the Bani Yas Tribe (1000 to 1700s)
Andalusian-Arab geographer Abu Abdullah Al Bakri and Venetian pearl merchant Gaspero Balbi left traces of the past Dubai in some of their texts from 1095 to 1580. They detailed the city’s livelihood, which focuses on pearl diving, fishing, boat building, and trading.
Following these traces, the Bani Yas Tribe entered Dubai and marked a milestone in 1793. The tribe started settling in other areas of the UAE, harnessing their political power. In no time, Dubai became dependent on Abu Dhabi.
The British Conflict and the Al Maktoum Dynasty (1800s to 1833)
In 1820, sheiks in various regions of the UAE signed the “General Maritime Peace Treaty” with the British government, which targets piracy in the region and denounces the Arab slave trade. This remains today as one of the most critical events in the history of Dubai.
Over a decade later, the Al Maktoum dynasty, descendants of the House of Al-Falasi of the Bani Yas Tribe, left Abu Dhabi and took over Dubai in 1833. The Al Maktoum dynasty continues to lead Dubai until today.
The Arrival of “Expats” And the Discovery of Oil (1833 to 1966)
The Al Maktoum dynasty ensured that Dubai would rise as a prosperous city. The dynasty, led by leaders Sheikh Obeid bin Said bin Rashid, Sheikh Saeed bin Butti, Sheikh Hasher bin Maktoum, Sheikh Rashid bin Maktoum, Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum bin Hasher Al Maktoum, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, and other leaders of the Al Maktoum dynasty transformed the whole of Dubai through the years—from a fishing village to a metropolis.
When foreign countries and cities noticed that Dubai was thriving, the city used this to its advantage and welcomed foreign nationals to boost the tourism and trade industry. In 1894, the city government passed a tax exemption for expatriates to further boost trading in the area. The new law attracted many foreign workers and traders, with most of the foreign population hailing from India and Pakistan.
While trading is good for the economy, Dubai never let go of its fishing and pearl diving business and resources until Japan invented artificial pearls in the 1950s. The fall of the pearl diving industry negatively affected the city’s economy, but it quickly recovered in 1966—the discovery of one of the biggest oil supplies in the world at the offshore Fateh field.
The Full Modernization of Dubai (1966 to Present)
The production and exportation of oil gently pushed the modernization of Dubai. Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai from 1958 to 1990, began the development of modern Dubai. He turned all small settlements of the city in Dubai Creek into a commercial center in hopes of maintaining the city’s status and power against the possible fall of the oil business.
Sheikh Rashid developed and improved Port Rashid, the Al Shindagha Tunnel, the Jebel Ali Port, the Dubai World Trade Centre, the Dubai Drydocks, and Dubai Creek to create regional trade hubs. Now, Dubai remains one of the wealthiest cities in the world.
Dubai and the Other Emirates
Dubai is the wealthiest city in the UAE, but the success of the UAE is also being powered by six other independent city-states or emirates. Each emirate is equally powerful and has its own unique set of characteristics in terms of aspects like geography and economy.
Abu Dhabi – the largest emirate in terms of size. Abu Dhabi stands today as the federal capital of the UAE. Its economy is dependent on oil and natural gas reserves.
Sharjah – the third most populous city in the UAE. Sharjah’s economy focuses on manufacturing, but the city pays equal attention to arts and culture.
Umm al-Qaiwain – Despite being one of the smallest cities, Umm al-Qaiwain is one of the biggest players in the fishing industry. This city is also the only emirate where females outnumber males.
Fujairah – the only city standing on the eastern coast of the UAE. The city’s economy is dependent on fishing and agriculture.
Ajman – the smallest of the seven emirates in the UAE. Ajman takes pride in its trading, construction, and real estate businesses.
Ra’s al-Khaima –the city is noted for its close location and relation to the beautiful Hajar mountains. It has a thriving economy and a stable government. Its tourism sector is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the UAE.
Did You Know?
Dubai is one of the top five most visited cities in the world, alongside London, Paris, Singapore, and Bangkok.
Dubai doesn’t impose personal and income taxes.
Dubai is home to the tallest building, the only ‘seven-star’ hotel, the largest mall, the longest automated metro, and the largest natural botanical garden in the world.
Dubai’s weekend is from Friday to Saturday.
Dubai only houses 15% locals; expats dominate the population.