The Dubai Mall, Sharia Law, and Social Norms: No Short-Shorts, No PDA

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Image result for dubai mallThe Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world.  As of 2016 it was the most visited building on the planet, attracting 92 million visitors – with 1,200 shops, a 250-room luxury hotel, 22 cinema screens, plus 120 restaurants and cafes.  It sits at the base of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.  The mall has over 14,000 parking spaces across 3 car parks, with valet services and a car locator ticketing system. It also houses a full aquarium, several theme parks, a 24-meter long, 7.6-meter high diplodocus fossil, and shop selling corn-on-the-cob.  Check it out:

At its entrance and on cards available at information desks throughout, the management prominently posts these rules:

The Bottom Line

  1. How is this sign similar to ones found in stores in your town?  How is it different?  
  2. Using an online dictionary and then again in your own words – define the concept of a “social norm.”  
  3. Who are these rules aimed at?  How do you know?
  4. Compare and contrast these rules to the rules of your school.  To the norms that govern your behavior in a public place like a mall in your country.
  5. Who decides what the rules are?  Does “being good” mean different things to different people?  Is it different in different places?
  6. Would you still want to visit another country if it meant following these rules?  Would you consider living there?
  7. Many Muslims believe that the collected traditions of the life of Muhammad, or hadith, require both men and women to dress and behave modestly in public.  These collected norms make up Sharia, which forms the basis of both religious and civil law in many Muslim majority countries.  However, this requirement has been interpreted in many different ways by Islamic scholars (ulema) and Muslim communities.  Aside from the sign above, one of the most visible ways that this modesty is carried out is in women’s clothing.  Look up and compare these forms of traditional dress, sometimes controversial in the west:
    1. abaya
    2. hijab
    3. niqab
  8. Does your society place pressure on girls and women to dress and behave in certain ways?  What is this pressure telling them to do, and where does it come from – the media?  Your parents?  Your school?  Your religion?
  9. By American and European standards, the norms and rules that govern life in the Arabian Peninsula, including in Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, can seem very strict – and to outsiders, even random.  As you have seen, in Dubai are different standards for dress and Americans have been deported from the UAE for acts of public affection.  Alcohol is typically not as openly consumed, either, if it is available at all.  Homosexuality is generally illegal.  Some Americans are uncomfortable with these laws because of their basis in Islam.  Research laws in your state on alcohol sales, abortion, the teaching of evolution, on prayer in school or in your state legislature.  Some of these laws are likely influenced, at least in part, by the rules and norms of the Christian religion.  In what ways is this similar or different to the influence of Muslim norms on laws in places like Dubai?  

Find more free lessons on Islam, a Gulf State travel blog, and annotated photo essays about travel and adventure in the Gulf States.


A view from the Burj Khalifa. (Dubai, UAE, 2016.)

You can actually visit parts of the world featured in this lesson:

Sweat in the streets of Manama and Doha, ride to the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, witness the grandeur of Islamic architecture at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque before spending the evening dune bashing with high paying tourists in the sands of Abu Dhabi.