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Is Dubai an Islamic Country?

Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi

The answer to this question has to be Yes – but nevertheless this matter is more complicated than one might think.

Legally, Dubai – and the whole of the Arab Emirates – have just one state religion, and that is Islam. But which makes Dubai so special within the Islamic world, is the fact that it gives a lot of freedom to other religions. They can have their own places of worship (and even own them), and they can freely advertise religious events. In most of the Arab world or in Iran this would be completely unthinkable – even Turkey is far less friendly to non-Muslims.

Demographically, the situation is also unique: It is mostly believed that the most wide-spread religion is in fact Hinduism. (We don’t have exact figures on this. However, it is known that around fifty per cent of all the people in Dubai are Indian nationals – but since there is a sizable Muslim minority in India, and a Hindi minority in Pakistan and Indonesia, the actual number of Hindis in the country can only be estimated.)

Dubai of course had always been a solely Islamic country – then, when it started to open itself up, beginning in the late 1970’s, its ethnic and religious composition was completely changed, and this trend is ongoing. Something like this is completely unprecedented in the Islamic world, and it remains a fascinating experiment in cross-cultural community building.

What can a Westerner who chooses to live in Dubai actually expect? Well, it is an important factor that he or she will be able to practise their religion completely in the open. It is well-known in the West that the Holy Qur’an forbids the consumption of alcohol – but in Dubai this rule is not in effect. Otherwise – who would want to live there?!

In Dubai Westerners can count on a high level of tolerance. Basically, they can live exactly the same lives as back home. It is however important to remember that there a certain differences in atmosphere. So the foreigner in Dubai will be well-advised to combine a certain tact with common sense, and things will work out fine.

Not every Westerner has always shown this kind of cross-cultural sensibility. There was this highly-publicized case of a man and a woman who had sex in public. While in most Western countries this kind of behaviour would technically be illegal too, it can have far more serious consequences in Dubai, as it clearly offends religious feelings.

There is zero tolerance for drugs in Dubai. This is not a religious question, but any Westerner who decides to make the Emirate his home definitely has to make himself completely aware of this issue before going to Dubai!