Answer to a question

November 8, 2009

Pictures of the mussel dinner show some of us imbibing alcohol, which leads to the question of is it legal and how does that fit with this being an Islamic country? Sorry it has taken me so long to reply.

I believe each Emirate has it’s own set of regulations regarding alcohol. In Dubai, only particular restaurants are licensed to sell alcohol. Alcohol in restaurants tends to be quite expensive. If an individual wishes to purchase alcohol in bottles for home consumption, an alcohol license is required. One needs to have a permission letter from their visa sponsor, in my case my employer, and some other paperwork. There is a limit on how much one can buy per month (a currency amount). Depending on what you buy, it can be quite inexpensive by the bottle. Liquor stores are very low key and few in number. You have to know the name of the shop (MMI or Africa & Eastern) because there will be no mention of liquor in the signage and no windows, let alone window displays.

As for Muslims, drinking is considered wrong, but is a matter of individual conscience. In fact, that evening two men, who by their dress and appearance, seemed to be Emirati came into the bar. I did not check to see exactly what they were drinking and can’t assume it was alcohol, but they were clearly socializing with other drinkers. There were those in our group who are Muslim and were drinking non-alcoholic drinks. We may also have Twitter friends who would have liked to have come, but chose not to do to the location being a bar. It’s all about personal choice.

That being said, drunk driving is another matter. Driving under the influence results in a jail term and hefty fine. I’m not sure if being deported after the first two punishments is a given, but it is certainly a possibility. According to “the grapevine,” there is a zero tolerance rule, so if you are involved in a traffic violation and found to have any blood alcohol level, punishment applies. I have yet to find this in writing from a reputable source, so cannot state that with certainty. The grapevine here tends to say a lot of things that are not necessarily true.

There certainly are countries which are more strict on issues related to Islamic religious practices and requirements. Dubai would be considered liberal by many and conservative by others, but there are still things that remind us we are living in a different world. Recently, a man walked into a mosque here and declared himself to be Jesus. When someone in America walks into a church and declares himself to be Jesus, it is generally recognized that he is probably mentally ill and in need of care. He may be arrested for disruptive behavior, if he is physically threatening, but, generally, he is more likely to be committed for psychiatric evaluation than to be charged with a crime. Here, the man has been arrested and is being questioned (and may be charged) for having offended a religion. This is a punishable offense. Mental illness still has some stigma attached to it here, although there is increasing awareness of other psychological conditions like autism, so there may be hope for acknowledgment of depression, etc., in the future.


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