It’s sometimes easy to forget that people once looked at the cities of the Middle East the way we look at New York, London, and Sydney today; they were multicultural, international hubs, where everyone was accepted and ideas flowed freely.
During the Middle Ages, cities like Damascus, Cairo, and Baghdad were ground zero for innovation and culture. Merchants sold goods from every corner of the world. Mathematicians were cultivating algebra (which is actually an Arabic word). Scientists and artists flocked to Middle Eastern cities, because they were the place to be if you were talented and intelligent.
Today, the geopolitical is different in much of the Middle East. Dubai, however, still moves forward, continuing the tradition of cosmopolitanism and openness. In many ways, Dubai brings to mind the innovative atmosphere of the old Middle East, bringing together the people of nearly 200 nations and countless religions.
What Non-Muslims Can Expect in the Middle East
Previously, we explained that Dubai’s climate is much more complex than one might think. Though air conditioning is a standard feature out here, the city (and its surroundings) do have seasons, with significant variation in temperatures. More than that, the area is home to a range of biomes, from the vast desert to lush, green Al-Ain.
But climate isn’t the only misconception people have about the region. When it comes to travelling the Middle East, foreigners often have reservations. Usually, these are fueled by half-truths and sensationalist news stories. In fact, Dubai is known for its culture of hospitality and tolerance.
Take a look at Dubai’s demographics: the city is home to literally everyone. It’s a sprawling, multi-ethnic mashup of nationalities, religions, and identities. Buddhists and Hindus live alongside Muslims and Sikhs, while Christians worship next to Baha’is. Visitors and non-Muslims are welcome to visit mosques, and vice versa.
Take a random sampling of any of the city’s streets, and you’ll run into people from all over the world. Immigrants from Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas all make their home here. Dubai is the New York of the Middle East and people are chasing the promise of a better life for themselves and their families. In fact, the local people (the Emiratis), only make up about 10 to 15 percent of the population in Dubai.
In fact, the United Arab Emirates is one of only a few nations with a Ministry of Tolerance. Headed by Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, their job is promoting tolerance. They do this by enriching culture and science, and, most importantly, preventing extremism. One of their contributions was launching the world’s first-ever Tolerance Charter in 2016. The goal: affirm the nation’s commitment to peace, moderation, and responsibility
The UAE also created the Hedayah Institute. Their job is to understand the multicultural situation through research, communications, and ultimately, building bridges between cultures.
Some pointers on Ramadan
Even during the holy, month-long festival of Ramadan (which occurs in the 9th month of the Islamic calendar), Dubai does not shut down. In fact, businesses are often open; tourists can still shop at Dubai’s famous souks, ride abras through Dubai Creek, or even visit landmarks like the Burj Khalifa or the Burj al-Arab. After all, Ramadan is here for everyone to experience, regardless of race, religion, or gender.
Still, tourists are asked to follow certain codes of conduct–within reason. You’re encouraged to refrain from eating in public from sunrise to sunset (in accordance with the rules of Ramadan). Don’t worry, they still open private cafes and stores for non-Muslims. And, out of respect for a holy occasion, visitors (both male and female) are asked to cover their shoulders and wear knee-length shorts.
For more information on visiting Dubai during Ramadan, be sure to read our Ramadan guide.
The world is far more complicated than the media and popular culture make it out to be–and often, far less dangerous. Don’t cave into unreasonable suspicions and fears. If you do, you’ll miss out on the life-changing adventure that is Dubai.