Impact on Non-Muslims

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Impact on Non-Muslims

The impact of Islam on the non-Muslim residents and visitors in the UAE is limited and you just need to be aware of the issues so that you don't upset your hosts, or even end up with a fine or imprisonment.

If you behave with sense and decorum and respect the culture of the area, then you should not have any problems


Despite being an Arabic word, Muslims are not permitted to drink alcohol. This means that there is a more restricted access to alcohol than in many countries. It is not available to buy in Supermarkets but can be bought from a limited number of off-licences. However, in most cases an alcohol licence is required. Licences can be obtained by expat residents, but are not available to visitors. Visitors can buy alcohol on arrival in ‘Dubai Duty Free’, check in the Duty Free shop on the limits that you can buy.



There are many bars and restaurants that serve alcohol; these are located within major hotels in the city. Restaurants that are not part of a hotel complex or club will be dry. The drinking age in UAE is 21, and IDs are often checked. Large hotel restaurants will allow under 21’s to join their friends or families, but many bars will refuse access to under 21’s even if they only want to have a soft drink. Alcohol prices tend to be high – as you might expect when drinking in major hotels anywhere. There are many ‘happy hour’ deals, look in the ‘Time Out’ magazine for details of the current deals.

Finally, the Sharjah Emirate is totally dry and so there is no alcohol available here – even in the major hotels.



As well as alcohol, pork products are also less available and in many cases you will find that the bacon, ham and sausages served are not made from pork but beef, chicken or turkey. Your full English may have beef sausages and turkey bacon! However, there are restaurants that have a pork license and so you can get pork if you look around. Some supermarkets do not sell pork products, whilst others such as Spinneys and Waitrose,  do and have a ‘pork room’ full of piggy products.



Obvious displays of affection should be avoided, although wives and husbands may hold hands in public. Also avoid drunkenness and  do not make rude hand gestures, swear, point or stare.  Do not take photographs of the locals without first asking permission.

Dress respectably; ladies may wear strappy dresses in the main hotels and restaurants but you should cover your shoulders in the malls and whilst out and about in the city. Bikinis can be worn on the beaches and by hotel pools – but beach wear should not be worn away from the pool or beach. Women should not bathe topless.



During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and so you will find that access to food and drink is more restricted. Most supermarkets, service stations, fast food takeaway and similar outlets in the UAE are open during the day and will sell food and drink – but these must be taken away and eaten in private - do not eat in your car or anywhere in public.


You will still be able to dine in large high end hotels – but the areas will be screened off from view. Most cafes and restaurants elsewhere in the city, such as in Malls or parks will be closed during the day – though with extended hours at night. Some cafes in the larger Malls may provide takeaway food, and there may be few places where screened cafes are open. For example, the coffee shop by arrivals in Terminal 3 at the airport is heavily screened – but was open for drinks and snacks in 2012. A couple of other places where you might find some cafes open are DIFC and Dubai Healthcare City.  The cafes and restaurants in DFIC are found behind yellow curtains during the day. These shield them from public view. In general, Food and drink outlets that are open will be discreet and so you may need to look carefully to decide whether a place is open or not. It is not illegal for them to be open during Ramadan, but they will have to have a special licence to operate during daylight hours.

In general it is wisest to assume that unless you are in a major hotel, you will not be able to dine out during the day and even in a major hotel you will not be able to buy alcoholic drinks until after sunset. The only place you can buy alcohol would be airside at Dubai International Airport.

Young children (up to about 11 or 12 years old) can eat and drink in public during the day – as Muslim children do not fast until they reach puberty. However, try and be discrete and find a quite corner for the children to eat in.

As well as not eating, smoking or drinking in public (and your car counts as public and so don’t eat or drink in this either), you should also be more conservative about your dress. Be extra careful with the way in which you dress.  

Businesses will also have their hours changed. Malls are opened later, usually until the early hours of the morning, whilst banks and government offices will usually close at 2pm. Check with the department if you have to visit them. You will also find that almost every government related office is closed during Eid Al Fitr national holiday.

Dubai Metro usually operates later during Ramadan (until 1am) – to cope with the later opening of the malls. Taxis operate as normal during Ramadan, although you may find it difficult to find one at sunset. Most of the drivers are Muslim and will be keen to break their fast.

Don’t worry about the airport though; Dubai International Airport operates as normal 24hrs a day after passport control and customs.

More information on Ramadan can be found here.