I’ve lived many years in the UAE and although not a muslim myself, I have learned how to behave in a different culture than mine. Even though it’s a less conservative country than its neighbors, I still read weekly about people getting into big trouble (court, jail) because of their behaviors that are considered “normal” back home.
So in order to avoid spoiling your holidays, there are basic rules that should be followed in most muslim countries. Stick to these and you would enjoy your time without any trouble!
1- Read about the local rules and traditions:
“Ignorance of the law excuses no man”. It is very easy nowadays to research about any country: Books, internet, magazines, guides.. The first thing to do before heading to a foreign country is to at least know about the culture and traditions. This could help you enjoy and understand better the country you are visiting while avoiding trouble!
In many muslim countries, there is a public dress code for people to follow. Although in most places foreigners (especially women) are not required to cover themselves up entirely, it is best to dress moderately and avoid showing too much skin. Elbow-length sleeves and knee-length shorts/skirts are acceptable while in public. When visiting locals or officials, it is also a sign of respect to cover your hair (for women) and wear longer clothes. Avoid also at any cost clothes with graphic designs that could appear insulting to their culture. This applies for men and women.
3-No drinking in public:
In many muslim countries, alcohol is served to non-muslims only in bars or hotels. It is usually forbidden to drink in public places. Also, many countries have zero-tolerance when caught drunk while driving. Even a single glass of wine is enough to land you in jail and pay hefty fines. So avoid taking your car when you know you will be drinking even a pint of beer.
4-Avoid public display of affection:
While some countries tolerate holding hands with your partner, it is forbidden to show any signs of affection in public places. Kissing, caressing, holding your partner too close could lead you into trouble. Keep all this affection on hold until you reach a private place! And a personal advice: Avoid flirting (or more) with any local women/men.. This could lead you to court and jail (considered as extra-marital relations).
5-No rude gestures and fights:
You may show your finger to someone in your own country, or get into a small fight with an unpleasant person, but this will land you in jail and get deported in muslim countries. Keep yourself under control! It’s not worth it..
6-Be careful during the month of Ramadan:
The month of Ramadan is a month of fasting in Islam. It is completely forbidden to eat, drink, smoke, chew, etc.. in public places from dawn till dusk. Ask around if you are really unsure (and hungry) about the rules, there are often private places for non-muslims to satisfy their hunger/thirst/addiction.
7-Learn the basic greetings:
It is always a sign of respect to learn the basic greetings of the country you are in. When you meet someone, the usual greeting is “Salam Aleikum” (Peace be upon you) replied by: “Aleikum Salam“. Shake hands with a man and avoid contact with a woman.