Do You Have to Cover up in Dubai?
To Cover up in Dubai or Not?
As a Muslim country, many of the women, when out in public, wear the traditional headscarf - either the Hijab or the Shayla. Some may go a step further and wear the Niqab or even the Burqa which not only covers the hair but also a lot of the face.
In some Muslim countries it is law that all women must cover up (for example even foreigners must cover up in Iran and Saudi Arabia) but when I was living in Dubai, I was often asked by people who were 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), or in fact just people who were curious when I told them I lived there, whether all women have to cover up or not?
The UAE is indeed 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 its strategic growth.
With this expansion of tourism there has been, in my opinion, a slight lack of dissemination of the 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 - this is the long black flowing robes that cover their clothes. 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 preference of their husband or father).
Some local Emirati women will completely cover their faces with the burka but the majority just cover their hair with the hijab (and some just wear what you might class as normal Western clothes but obviously you wouldn't notice these women so much as they may appear to be more Western).
So, the situation is that it is not required for a visitor to Dubai to cover their heads with a scarf at all. There is one exception though and that is if you are visiting a mosque or similar place where, if you do not have one, you will be given a head scarf to wear.
What You Should Do
There are however, some local rules on decency that it would be polite to 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 below 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 at most of 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.
There are also other places that may adopt this same stance so be prepared to be refused entry to some places if you are not adhering to this dress code.
Some people may flout these rules but the fact that they do should not mean that this is a signal for you to do the same. The key is to respect other people's rules and everyone will respect you.
Rules for Dubai Tourists
The story is different however if you are in a hotel. Most international hotels cater for a large variety of clientele and so they will not have such strict rules on what you are wearing. For example you can wear evening wear that does not cover your shoulders and comes above the knee if you are in a hotel restaurant or nightclub.
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 or at the swimming pool, normal beach rules apply. However topless sunbathing and g-stings are a no-go area! Once you are off the beach though you should cover up, even if you are just walking through the hotel to your room.
A lot of it is common sense and just trying not to offend people. You may get away with wearing something that is not appropriate but that does not mean that it is right.
Having lived for over 7 years in Dubai I have actually come to appreciate the fact that I don't have to see people half naked in the street!
© 2011 Marian L