Dubai is a modern city that welcomes visitors from around the world. However, as it is also a Muslim city, there are certain factors to take into consideration in terms of dress code and behaviour.
Religion plays a significant role in the culture of Dubai. Mosques can be found throughout the city and at sunset the call to prayer can be heard across the rooftops. It is possible for non-Muslim tourists to visit certain mosques in Dubai; perhaps the most impressive is the Jumeirah Mosque, tours of which can be booked through the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Ramadan is a popular time of year to visit Dubai; although all residents and visitors must refrain from eating or drinking in public in daylight hours, it is a wonderful time to experience the local culture and strong religious heritage of the city. Non-Muslims may eat and drink in designated areas, and many hotels and shopping malls will have various outlets that remain open during Ramadan.
Visitors to Dubai should dress modestly, particularly in conservative areas and public places. Swimwear is acceptable at the beach or around the swimming pool, but visitors should cover up elsewhere. Shorts and T-shirts are suitable attire in many places, although when visiting mosques, religious sites or older parts of the city, both men and women may feel more comfortable wearing loose-fitting clothes that cover shoulders, arms and legs. Women will usually be required to wear a headscarf when entering mosques.
Courtesy and hospitality are important virtues in the Arab world, and visitors will enjoy the friendliness and warm welcome provided by locals. If you are invited to a majlis, remove your shoes at the entrance. Males and females will probably be escorted to different sections. If you are sharing a meal with your host, accept food and refreshment before moving on to matters of business. It is important to stand up for new guests and older or higher-ranking people, and men are expected to stand when a woman enters the room. When greeting a member of the opposite sex who is Muslim, it is important not to offer to shake hands unless they extend their hand first – both men and women (more commonly women) may prefer not to shake hands with the opposite sex due to religious reasons.
It is customary to accept food and drink with your right hand; this is also the hand you should eat with. Avoid showing the soles of your feet, or pointing your foot at anyone. If you are sitting in front of an important guest, it is considered rude to cross your legs. Do not beckon or point with your finger; if you need to use a hand gesture, use the whole hand. If you are hosting Muslim guests, do not offer them alcoholic beverages or pork.
Alcoholic beverages are available in licensed bars and restaurants in Dubai. In order to get a licence, an outlet must be attached to a hotel or sports centre, and therefore, most bars, pubs and licensed restaurants can be found inside Dubai’s hotels. Visitors may also purchase alcohol from Duty Free shops at Dubai International Airport, as long as they observe the limits set by Dubai Customs. Drinking and driving is strictly prohibited, and Dubai Police take a zero tolerance approach – in other words, it is not safe to have even one drink if you are driving.
Visitors should remember that, as Dubai is a Muslim city, a more modest code of behaviour is required. Being drunk and disorderly in public is unacceptable, and may result in a fine or worse. Public displays of affection should be minimal – holding hands is acceptable but kissing and hugging in public is not. Noise disruptions, bad language, making obscene gestures and showing disrespect in any way to Dubai’s religion or its leaders are all forbidden and may land you in legal trouble. The following are also considered illegal in Dubai: use or possession of drugs, cohabitation, sex outside of marriage, having a baby out of wedlock, adultery and homosexuality.