Religion in the United Arab Emirates

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Religion in the United Arab Emirates (2005 census)[1]

  Islam (72%)
  Christianity (12.6%)
  Hinduism (6.6%)
  Buddhism (2%)
  Other religions (2.8%)
  No religion (4%)
Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai. Islam is the official religion in the United Arab Emirates.

Islam is both the official and majority religion in the United Arab Emirates followed by approximately 76% of the population.[2] The Al Nahayan and Al Maktoum ruling families adhere to Sunni Islam of Maliki school of jurisprudence. Many followers of the Hanbali school of Sunni Islam are found in Sharjah, Umm al-Quwain, Ras al-Khaimah and Ajman.[3] Their followers include the Al Qasimi ruling family. Other religions represented in the country including Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Sikhism are practiced by non-nationals.[4]


There are more Sunni than Shiite Muslims among the residents. There are also a smaller number of Ismaili Shias and Ahmadi Muslims.[2] The UAE's judicial system is derived from the civil law system and Sharia law. The court system consists of civil courts and Sharia courts. According to Human Rights Watch, UAE's criminal and civil courts apply elements of Sharia law, codified into its criminal code and family law, in a way which discriminates against women.[5]

Sharia courts in the UAE have a significant amount of authority. Flogging is a punishment for criminal offences such as adultery, premarital sex and alcohol consumption.[6][7][8] Due to Sharia courts, flogging is legal with sentences ranging from 80 to 200 lashes.[9][10] Between 2007 and 2013, many people in the UAE were sentenced to 100 lashes.[11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18] Several Muslims in Abu Dhabi and Ajman were sentenced to 80 lashes for alcohol consumption.[19][20] An Estonian soldier in 2006 was sentenced to 40 lashes for being drunk.[21] Several people have been sentenced to 60 lashes for illicit sex.[22][23][24] Sharia courts have penalized domestic workers with floggings.[25] Under UAE law, premarital sex is punishable by 100 lashes.[26]

Shia Mosque in Dubai.

Stoning is a legal punishment in the UAE. In 2006, an expatriate was sentenced to death by stoning for committing adultery.[27] Between 2009 and 2013, several people were sentenced to death by stoning.[14][28][29] In May 2014, an Asian housemaid was sentenced to death by stoning in Abu Dhabi.[30][31][32]

Sharia law dictates the personal status law, which regulate matters such as marriage, divorce and child custody. The Sharia-based personal status law is applied to Muslims and sometimes non-Muslims.[33] Non-Muslim expatriates can be liable to Sharia rulings on marriage, divorce and child custody.[33] Sharia courts have exclusive jurisdiction over family law cases and also have jurisdiction over some criminal cases including adultery, premarital sex, robbery and related crimes.

Apostasy is a crime punishable by death in the UAE.[34][35] UAE incorporates hudud crimes of Sharia into its Penal Code – apostasy being one of them.[36] Article 1 and Article 66 of UAE's Penal Code requires hudud crimes to be punished with the death penalty,[36][37] therefore apostasy is punishable by death in the UAE.

Kissing in public is illegal and can result in deportation.[38] Expats in Dubai have been deported for kissing in public.[39][40][41] In Abu Dhabi, people have been sentenced to jail followed by deportation for kissing in public.[42]

Homosexuality is illegal: homosexuality is a capital offense in the UAE.[43][44] In 2013, an Emirati man was on trial for being accused of a "gay handshake".[44] Article 80 of the Abu Dhabi Penal Code makes sodomy punishable with imprisonment of up to 14 years, while article 177 of the Penal Code of Dubai imposes imprisonment of up to 10 years on consensual sodomy.[45]

Amputation is a legal punishment in the UAE due to the Sharia courts.[46][47][48][49][50] Crucifixion is a legal punishment in the UAE.[51][52][53] Article 1 of the Federal Penal Code states that "provisions of the Islamic Law shall apply to the crimes of doctrinal punishment, punitive punishment and blood money."[54] The Federal Penal Code repealed only those provisions within the penal codes of individual emirates which are contradictory to the Federal Penal Code. Hence, both are enforceable simultaneously.[55]

During the month of Ramadan, it is illegal to publicly eat, drink, or smoke between sunrise and sunset.[56] Exceptions are made for pregnant women and children. The law applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims,[56] and failure to comply may result in arrest.[57] Dancing in public is illegal in the UAE.[58][59][60]


Roman Catholics and Protestants form significant proportions of the Christian minority. The country has at least 45 churches.[4] The schools in public ownership have no Christian religious education.[61] Many Christians in the United Arab Emirates are of Asian, African, and European origin, along with Arabic speakers from Lebanon, Syria, and other countries.[62]

Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism[edit]

Hinduism and Jainism are practiced by a large percentage of the community of Indians and Pakistani Sindhis living in the UAE. To acknowledge the contribution of the Indian business community towards the early development of Dubai as a trade port, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum granted the permission and the land to build a temple complex in Bur Dubai. There is also a Sikh temple south of Dubai, in Jebel Ali.[citation needed]



There is a small Jewish community in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). There is only one known synagogue, in Dubai, which has been open since 2008. The synagogue also welcomes visitors.[63] As of 2019, according to Rabbi Marc Schneier of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, it is estimated that there are about 150 families to 3,000 Jews who live and worship freely in the UAE.[64]

The synagogue in Dubai is supported by the UAE, with the appointment of a Minister for Tolerance in 2016.[65] The Ministry of Tolerance led to the creation of the National Tolerance Programme and official recognition of the Jewish community in the UAE.[66]

Another synagogue is planned to be built in Abu Dhabi, alongside a Mosque and a Church, as part of the Abrahamic Family House.[67]

As of June 2020 community is headed by, the president of the Dubai Jewish Community, Solly Wolf, and Rabbi Levi Duchman. The community has Talmud Torah, Kosher Chicken Shechita and a permanent synagogue located in Dubai.[68][69][70][71]


Up to 4% of people reported irreligious beliefs according to a Gallup poll. It is illegal for Muslims,[72] with apostates from Islam facing a maximum sentence of the death penalty under the country's anti-blasphemy law.[73] As such, there have been questions regarding freedom of religion in the United Arab Emirates.

Atheism in the region is mainly present among foreign expatriates and a very small number of local youth.[74][75] According to Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, due to Islam being founded in the Arabian Peninsula over 1,400 years ago, the Persian Gulf region enjoys a long Islamic history and tradition, and it is strongly associated with national identity; thus, any distancing or criticism of religion "equates to distancing oneself from national identity".[76] Al-Qassemi notes that the use of social media via the internet remains the strongest medium of expression for Gulf atheists, while providing anonymity; a pioneering Gulf blogger is the Emirati atheist Ahmed Ben Kerishan, who is known in the Arabic blogosphere for advocating atheist and secular views.[76][77]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ a b "The World Factbook". CIA. Archived from the original on 2009-06-17.
  3. ^ Barry Rubin (2009), Guide to Islamist Movements, Volume 2, ME Sharpe, ISBN 978-0765617477, p. 310
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  6. ^ "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2008". Jeffrey T. Bergner. p. 2203.
  7. ^ "Torture and flogging". Fanack. Archived from the original on 9 August 2014. UAE Sharia courts sentence to flogging persons found guilty of drug use, adultery, and prostitution in all emirates except Dubai.
  8. ^ "U.N. Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice: United Arab Emirates". Human Rights Voices.
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  10. ^ "UAE: Judicial corporal punishment by flogging". World Corporal Punishment Research.
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  12. ^ "Teenager to be lashed for adultery". Gulf Daily News.
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  14. ^ a b "Two women sentenced to death for adultery". Khaleej Times. 25 September 2013.
  15. ^ "Prison for couple who conceived outside of wedlock". KA, 19, Emirati, was sentenced to six months in prison. Her would-be husband, AM, Omani, was sentenced to 100 lashes and one year in prison.
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  38. ^ "Public kissing can lead to deportation". The National.
  39. ^ "Jailed Dubai kissing pair lose appeal over conviction".
  40. ^ "Women get jail and deportation for kissing on Dubai public beach". Gulf News. 25 May 2008.
  41. ^ "London man tells of 'shock' jailing in Dubai over kiss".
  42. ^ "Couple deny kissing on Abu Dhabi Corniche".
  43. ^ "United Arab Emirates". Facts as drug trafficking, homosexual behaviour, and apostasy are liable to capital punishment.
  44. ^ a b "Man Accused of 'Gay Handshake' Stands Trial in Dubai".
  45. ^ "Federal criminal statute In UAE". Sodomylaws.Org. Archived from the original on 14 June 2006.
  46. ^ "Amnesty International Report 1999 – United Arab Emirates".
  47. ^ "United Arab Emirates: Briefing for the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review" (PDF). p. 3.
  48. ^ "United Arab Emirates – Global Progress". Punishments include flogging, amputation, and – as retaliation – injury similar to that for which the offender has been convicted of inflicting on the victim.
  49. ^ "United Arab Emirates – Country Reports on Human Rights Practices". In February an Indonesian woman convicted of adultery by the Shari'a court in the Emirate of Fujairah, was sentenced to death by stoning after she purportedly insisted on such punishment. The sentence was commuted on appeal to 1 year in prison, followed by deportation. In June 1998, the Shari'a court in Fujairah sentenced three Omani nationals convicted of robbery to have their right hands amputated. The Fujairah prosecutor's office instead commuted the sentence to a term of imprisonment.
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