Islam is the official religion of Dubai and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is one of the most liberal places in the Middle East and followers of other religions (except Judaism) are tolerated. Visitors should respect Islam and Arabic culture and laws.
Virtually all Emiratis are Muslim and around 85 percent of these are Sunni.
Migrants comprise almost 90 percent of the population of Dubai and the UAE. There are large number of expatriates from countries such as India (mainly Hindus, some Muslims), Bangladesh (mainly Muslims, some Hindus), Pakistan (mainly Muslims), Egypt (mainly Muslims, some Christians), Philippines (mainly Christians), and Indonesia (mainly Muslims, some Christians).
Like most other countries, taking and buying/selling drugs is a criminal offence. The penalties in Dubai though, are very severe. Even possession of a minute amount of cannabis (and we do mean very, very small) can result in a lengthy prison sentence.
In 2007 customs officers at Dubai International Airport discovered 0.003g of cannabis in the in tread of a Briton’s shoe. Keith Brown, who was actually only flying through Dubai, received a 4 year jail sentence.
Public Displays of Affection – Kissing In Dubai
According to the ‘Dubai Code of Conduct’ published in 2009 by the Executive Council of the Government of Dubai:
Displays of affection among couples — whether married or not — in public places does not fit the local customs and culture. Holding hands for a married couple is tolerated but kissing and petting are considered an offence to public decency.
Public displays of affection, as well as sexual harassment or randomly addressing women in public places, are liable to be punished by imprisonment or deportation.
In practice, kissing in public may just be frowned on. However, if a complaint is made to the police the situation can change dramatically. In 2009 a local woman was offended by a British couple kissing in a restaurant at the Jumeirah Beach Residence. The couple were arrested and received a one month prison sentence. They were subsequently deported.
Unmarried Couples – Sharing Hotel Rooms
Islamic law forbids unmarried couples from living together. The same rules are apply to those sharing a hotel room.
In practice, the law is not strictly enforced in Dubai. Many unmarried couples take holidays in Dubai and do share hotel rooms. Hotel staff at hotels catering to western tourists do not routinely alert the authorities or ask questions about marital status. A couple having different surnames should not raise any concerns (many married women retain a passport in their maiden name).
To be on the safe side, many unmarried couples refer to their partners as ‘husband’ or ‘wife’ throughout their stay in Dubai. It’s a sensible move.
In public places dress modestly. In public places such as shopping malls and restaurants, women should not wear low-cut tops or short skirts. Swimwear should only be worn at the beach.
Non-Muslims are allowed to drink alcohol at licensed premises (hotel bars and restaurants) and at home (with an alcohol licence). Being drunk outside these areas in an offence and can result in a fine or prison sentence.
In the neighbouring emirate of Sharjah, consumption and possession of alcohol is illegal.
Loud Music and Dancing
Dancing and loud music is not allowed in public places such as beaches and parks.
Dubai has a zero-tolerance policy with respect to driving under the influence of alcohol.
Incidents of road rage can lead to fines and imprisonment. Examples include British men jailed for rude hand gestures to drivers in Dubai.
Do not take photos of people in public places, especially women and children, without obtaining their permission. Do not take pictures of military areas, courts, palaces, embassies, and other sensitive locations.
Arrests for photography are not unheard of. Examples include a Pakistani man arrested for taking photos of the port area in Abu Dhabi, British plane spotters arrested in Fujairah, and men arrested for taking pictures of embassies and army headquarters in Abu Dhabi.
Visitors should also be aware of the special rules that come into effect during the holy month of Ramadan.