Islam in the United Arab Emirates

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Islam is the official religion of the United Arab Emirates. In the United Arab Emirates demographic, there are more Sunni than Shia Muslims. There are also a smaller number of Ismaili Shias and Ahmadi Muslims.[1]

90% of the Emirati population are Sunni Muslims. The remainder 10% are Shia, who are concentrated in the Emirates of Dubai and Sharjah. Although no official statistics are available for the breakdown between Sunni and Shia Muslims among noncitizen residents, media estimates suggest less than 20 percent of the noncitizen Muslim population are Shia.[2]


The arrival of envoys from the Islamic prophet Muhammad in 632 heralded the conversion of the region to Islam. After prophet Muhammad's death, one of the major battles of the Ridda Wars was fought at Dibba, to the east coast of the present-day Emirates. The defeat of the non-Muslims, including Laqit bin Malik Al-Azdi, in this battle resulted in the triumph of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula.[3]

The Bani Yas, which today form the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and Emirate of Dubai, traditionally adhere to the Sunni Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence from the Uyunid dynasty, whom spread of the Maliki school came by the command of Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al Uyuni.[4]


The federal General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments (Awqaf) oversee the administration of Sunni mosques, except in Dubai, where they are administered by the Dubai’s Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department (IACAD). The Awqaf distributes weekly guidance to Sunni imams regarding the themes and content of khutbah with a published script every week. The khutbas get posted on the Awqaf website. The Awqaf applies a three-tier system in which junior imams follows the Awqaf khutbah script closely; midlevel imams prepare khutbas according to the topic or subject matter selected by Awqaf authorities; and senior imams have the flexibility to choose their own subject for their khutbas. Some Shia religious leaders in Shia majority mosques choose to follow Awqaf-approved weekly addresses, while others write their own khutbah.[5] The government funds and supports Sunni mosques, with the exception of those considered private, and employs all Sunni imams as employees.[6]

Islamic studies are mandatory for all students in public schools and for Muslim students in private schools. The government-funded public schools do not provide instruction in any religion other than Islam. In private schools, non-Muslim students are not required to attend Islamic study classes. As an alternative, private schools are available for non-Muslims. Christian-affiliated schools are authorized to provide instruction tailored to the religious background of the student such as Christian instruction for Christian students, and ethics or other religions.[7]

The Awqaf operates official toll-free call centers and text messaging service for fatwas. The fatwas in the United Arab Emirates are available in three languages (Arabic, English, and Urdu). Fatwas are given based on the questions asked and includes fatwas in areas of belief and worship, business, family, women’s issues, and other issues. Callers explain their question directly to an official mufti, who then issue a fatwa based on the caller's question. Both female (muftiya) and male (mufti) religious scholars are available.[5]

For Muslims, the Sharia is the principal source of legislation. However, the judicial system allows for different types of law, depending on the case. Sharia forms the basis for judicial decisions in most family law matters for Muslims, such as marriage and divorce, and inheritance for Muslims. However, in the case of non-Muslims and noncitizens, the laws of their home country apply, rather than Sharia. The law does not directly prohibit Muslims from converting to other religions; however, the penal code defers to Sharia on matters defined as crimes in Islamic doctrine, which in many interpretations prohibits apostasy.[8][9]

Shia Islam[edit]

The Iranian Shia Mosque in Dubai.

The Jaafari Affairs Council manages the Shia affairs for all of the country, including overseeing mosques and endowments. The council also issues additional instructions on khutbas to Shia mosques.[5] The government does not appoint religious leaders for Shia mosques. Shia adherents worship and maintain their own mosques and the government considers Shia mosques to be private. However, Shia mosques are eligible to receive funding from the government upon request. The government allows Shia mosques to broadcast the Shia adhan from their minarets. Shia Muslims have their own council, the Jaafari Affairs Council, to manage Shia affairs, including overseeing mosques and community activities, managing financial affairs, and hiring preachers. The government permits Shia Muslims to observe Ashura in private gatherings, but not in public rallies.[6]

Shia Islam is practiced by approximately 15% of Emiratis.[10] It is also practiced among expatriate Muslim communities living in the country, most notably Iranians,[11][12] as well as some Arabs, Pakistanis, Indians, and other nationalities.[13] Non-Twelver Shia branches such as Ismailis and the Dawoodi Bohras are also present.[10]

Month of Ramadan[edit]

During the month of Ramadan, it is illegal to publicly eat, drink, chew or smoke between sunrise and sunset.[14] Exceptions are made for pregnant women, children, and diabetics or anyone else who cannot fast. The law applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims,[14] and failure to respect the Islamic tradition results in fines.[15] Designated cafes and restaurants operate in the morning but with decreased operation hours and cater to non-Muslims or people who are not fasting.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The World Factbook". CIA.
  2. ^ "United Arab Emirates 2017 International Religious Freedom Report". US Department of Justice. 2017. p. 2.
  3. ^ Morton, Michael Quentin (15 April 2016). Keepers of the Golden Shore: A History of the United Arab Emirates (1st ed.). London: Reaktion Books. pp. 178–199. ISBN 978-1780235806. Retrieved 8 November 2016.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-09-24. Retrieved 2014-02-22.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ a b c "United Arab Emirates 2017 International Religious Freedom Report". US Department of Justice. 2017. p. 8.
  6. ^ a b "United Arab Emirates 2017 International Religious Freedom Report". US Department of Justice. 2017. p. 9.
  7. ^ "United Arab Emirates 2017 International Religious Freedom Report". US Department of Justice. 2017. p. 4.
  8. ^ "United Arab Emirates 2017 International Religious Freedom Report". US Department of Justice. 2017. p. 5.
  9. ^ "UAE sets out legal overhaul of personal and family law". The National. 7 November 2020.
  10. ^ a b "United Arab Emirates". The World Factbook (CIA). 24 June 2015. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  11. ^ Cavendish, Marshall (2006). Peoples of Western Asia. Marshall Cavendish Corporation. p. 535. ISBN 9780761476771. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  12. ^ O'Regan, David (2004). International Auditing: Practical Resource Guide. John Wiley & Sons. p. 287. ISBN 9780471476955. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  13. ^ "Sunnis and Shia: Islam's ancient schism". BBC. 20 June 2014. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  14. ^ a b "Sharia law and Westerners in Dubai: should non-Muslims in UAE be made to face Islamic justice?".
  15. ^ Riazat Butt (31 July 2011). "Britons warned to respect Ramadan while holidaying in Dubai". The Guardian. London, UK. OCLC 60623878.
  16. ^ "Guidelines for spending Ramadan in Dubai". BBC. 18 July 2012.