Do You Have To Cover Up In Dubai?
To Cover Up In Dubai or Not?
This is a question that I am often asked about Dubai and people often wonder when they are planning a holiday to Dubai or one of the other United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Ras al Khaimah, Umm al Quwain & Fujairah are the others).
As the UAE is a muslim country and hence is governed by Sharia law. Although some countries in the Middle East follow the law to the strictest letter, Dubai is probably one of the more lenient Emirates in the area due to the large expat community (approximately 80% of the residents are not local Emiratis) and also to the high level of tourism that Dubai has planned for and wants as part of it's strategic growth.
With this expansion of tourism there has been, in my opinion, a slight lack of dissemination of th rules and regulations to the visitors, leading to a bit of confusion over what you can and can't do when visiting Dubai.
Dress Respectfully in Dubai
The majority of local women dress in the Abaya when they are outside their homes - the extent to which they cover their heads and faces depends on their own beliefs and interpretations of the Koran (and also as I understand, the preferance of their husband or father). Some local Emirati women will completely cover their faces but the majority just cover their hair (and some just wear what you might class as normal Western clothes but obviously you wouldn't notice these so much).
So, even though it is not required for a visitor to Dubai to cover their heads with a scarf at all (unless visiting a mosque or similar place where you will be given one to wear if you do not have one), there are some local rules on decency that you should follow:
When out and about you should make sure that your shoulders are covered. You should also ensure that you are wearing a skirt or trousers that come down over your knees. Although this is not strictly enforced it is considered bad manners by the local population if you do not do this. There are signs up around the shopping malls asking for people to dress respectably and you may be approached by mall security and asked to cover up if you are not dressed as I have described.
Rules for Dubai Tourists
The story is different however if you are in a hotel. Most international hotels cater for a large variety of clinetele and so they will not have such strict rules on what you are wearing, so for example you can wear evening wear that does not cover your shoulders. However, you should be aware that if there is a local Emirati in a hotel bar or restaurant and they object to what you are wearing they are within their rights to complain and this can go as far as the police, so the advice is to carry a wrap or shawl with you just in case.
When you are on a beach, normal beach rules apply. However topless sunbathing and g-stings are a no-go area! Once you are off the beach though you must cover up.
A lot of it is common sense and just trying not to offend people. Having lived for over 5 years in Dubai I have actually come to appreciate the fact that I don't have to see people half naked in the street when it is actually quite cold outside!