An interesting question. The degree to which Ramadan is observed
varies from country to country and within each country. You are
unlikely to see foreigners eating in the streets of Teheran during the
day, nor in Van in south-eastern Turkey, but you might in the tourist
areas of Istanbul. Where does Dubai stand?
The US Department of State's advice on the United Arab Emirates, one
of of which is Dubai, states: "all residents and visitors are required
by law during Ramadan to respect and abide by some of the behavior
restrictions imposed on Muslims, and are forbidden publicly to eat,
drink, or smoke during fasting hours."
This is echoed in the Expatriate Emirates FAQ page (published by the
Dubai Women's College) which states: "Non-Muslims should not be
tempted to eat, drink, or smoke in public, even in their cars, during
Ramadan. It is a punishable offence. If you have a small child, it is
acceptable for the child to eat or drink in a car, (similar exceptions
apply to pregnant women); however, to avoid unwanted derision and
possible questioning by police authorities you should be somewhere
private before consuming water or food."
Your guide book seems to have it right. Best advice: don't do it.
But you do suggest a medical emergency, dehydration. In which case:
the victim would probably be best advised to get off the streets, or
to have someone else (a doctor?) administer the water! Better still,
don't get to that stage of dehydration!
Islam is not intolerant. There are exceptions to fasting in Ramadan:
children, pregnant and nursing women, travelers, anyone who is ill.
(The concise encyclopedia of Islam, Harper and Row, 1989). I believe
that an imam can give special exemption in special circumstances.
But exemption for whatever reason does not give the right to eat or
drink in public - and it is certainly not the polite thing for a
westerner to do. (Some would say, even in the tourist areas of
Istanbul, and Istanbul is probably far more tolerant than Dubai.) It
is not polite, it is "poor form", as in: "The month during which
Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, and it is in poor form to eat, drink
or smoke in public. If a Muslim friend offers you tea or coffee during
the daytime in Ramadan, Ms Manners would suggest that you politely
You will find more advice on "Traveling in Islamic Countries during
Ramadan" at the Lonely Planet site
I hope that is helpful, but if the answer is unclear or incomplete,
please ask for clarification before giving a rating. Best, r2l
Request for Answer Clarification by
31 Dec 2003 06:13 PST
I still feel some more detail is needed on what a foreigner should do
generically if they didn't hydrate themselves adequately and need a
drink of water badly.
Does "in public" include any building - for example, if I'm
dehydrated in Dubai, and pop into a small retail store and notice they
have a water cooler...
Clarification of Answer by
31 Dec 2003 10:12 PST
Tuneman makes some pertinent points, not least, make sure you don't
get to the stage of testing "what happens if?". Testing, as in: "test
case": the law might be there, but may not be tested in the courts so
it is not possible to say what would happen if... Speaking for
myselk, there are few countries in which I would want to experience
punishment, possibly jail, and middle eastern countries do not feature
on that list.
I have not found any reports of punishment in Dubai, but have found
reports from other parts of the muslim world. However, there is one
ruling which makes the Dubai position clear: "The Dubai Supreme Court
has set a landmark ruling declaring that deportation orders should not
be removed on appeal whenever expatriates are found guilty of
religious crimes. Expatriates are often sentenced to deportation after
completing a punishment such as a jail term or fine. But when this
sentenced is referred to the Appeal Court and Supreme Courts this can
"However, in the case of religious crime it should always be upheld,
so long as the conviction stays."
In ths particular case, a priest had been punished and then deported
for over-zealously evangelising during Ramadan. Not quite the
situation you ask about, but the position is clear. The message is,
respect the laws and customs of the country; they may be tolerant of
foreigners, but will not suffer open insult and abuse.
You might note that some muslim countries won't allow one even to be
tempted: "In some islamic countries, including some hot and dry ones
water is turned off during those (daylight) hours."
Other countries are strict, to their own and towards foreigners. "The
Saudi government has warned Non-Muslim residents of Arab countries
that they must not eat, drink and smoke in public during Ramadan.
"The Interior Ministry said penalties would be imposed on any
non-Muslim who violates the ban in shops, streets or places of work.
Punishment could range from the termination of one's work contract to
"'Being a non-Muslim is no excuse ... deterrent measures will be taken
against violators,' the ministry said in a statement carried by the
official Saudi Press Agency."
This man may have got off lightly ? though he was not necessarily a
muslim. "A Syrian man caught smoking a cigarette during the Muslim
fasting month of Ramadan has been handed a suspended jail sentence of
Your question, then, remains hypothetical, and the best advice is,
Don't put yourself in this position ? and don't put others in the
position of having to do something about it. If you do find yourself
dehydrated and urgently in need of a drink, then drink discreetly, get
indoors, find an open café (if you can), beg the pardon of anyone in
the vicinity, try not to offend.
I hope that clarifies the situation, but do ask again if the answer
remains unclear. r2l
Request for Answer Clarification by
31 Dec 2003 11:23 PST
I'm disappointed by the manner in which you have judged me with the
words, "shame on you." Respect for other cultures is the very
reason I asked the question in the first place.
First of all, it will be some time before I even have the money to
travel anywhere, let alone to Dubai.
Second I already know enough to stay hydrated adequately. (I love
visiting deserts in the Southwest and always bring/drink enough
water) Another way to avoid the issue is simply not to visit
during Ramadan in the first place, which is the course I'm likeliest
to take, in the event of some pecuniary good fortune on my part.
Third, respect for the culture is the very reason I'm asking this
question. I'm asking because I want only to clarify the full meaning
of "no drinking in public" and what "public" actually means, ie
does it mean "in the street", "nowhere at all," "some restaurants
and retail establishments, etc."
You have misinterpreted my desire to go beyond the scope of a
guidebook for a better understanding. It's partially my fault
for not explaining the *why* of my question up front. In addition,
in a more elliptical sense, I'm trying to seek out how
Dubai (and I suppose other Muslim countries) balance their
religious strictures against the very human need to have some
plain water during a hot, arid day.
Except for your comment, I've gotten excellent information in
response to my original posted question, for which I will
rate and pay appropriately.
Clarification of Answer by
01 Jan 2004 01:16 PST
I said right at the beginning that this was an interesting question,
and it surely is - it has certainly generated some heat.
To be fair to Bowler, his comment was on pcventure's second request
for clarification which was, as stated, addressed to Tuneman. So
PCV's second request was not a request for me (or for anyone else) to
clarify further; it was a comment on Tuneman's contribution and should
be in the comments section of the answer. It's a procedural point, a
matter of Google Answers customs and usage. I hope that clarifies the
situation - and takes some heat out of the discussion.
I am glad the original question was answered satisfactorily, and many
thanks for the rating and the tip - a nice new year's bonus! If it is
your New Year's Day as well, then I wish you (all) a peaceful,
healthy, and happy new year. R2L
I would like to contribute some experience from living in Dubai for 5
years as a non-Muslim. In Dubai, you will be fined for consuming food,
drink, or even chewing gum in public, although I have never seen it in
practice. But the alternatives are vast, and nobody has any intention
of seeing anyone faint from dehydration, especially the westerners.
Muslims have a strategy to be able to handle not eating or drinking
during daylight during Ramadan and that is to wake up just before the
sun comes up and have a good hearty breakfast "sohour" that will keep
them going until sun down. Places like Dubai, which have a large
percentage of non-Muslims, turn a blind eye to westerners who find
that they need food or drink. All the shops are open where you can buy
a bottle of water and find a quiet place to consume it. If you are out
in the desert, it is considered that you are traveling and therefore
you can eat and drink to your heart's content and of course there is
always one food outlet in every hotel that allows anyone to stop in
and re-fuel themselves. Finally as someone else mentioned in their
comments, you may carry food and drinks with you, but just find a
quiet spot where there aren't many people to consume them; inside a
car (not taxi), corridor of a building, behind a parked car, etc.
Ramadan is a time of giving and forgiveness, and in general, you will
not be criticized if you show respect by trying to be sensible about
where and how you consume food or drink. Finally to prove how flexible
Dubai is during Ramadan, you may, as a non-Muslim consume alcohol
after sun down.
If you would like more information about Dubai, check out