Young Emirati Women Tell Foreigners to Cover Up

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. We’ve all heard it. We’ve all probably at least tried to abide by it at some point or another during our travels. It’s not always that easy to do, though, especially since tourist hot spots around the world seem to be becoming increasingly diverse. The “Romans” aren’t a necessarily a neat little group of like-minded people sharing the same culture, religion, or values.

Take Dubai, for instance. The BBC recently reported on the Twitter campaign #UAEDressCode, started by young Muslim women in the United Arab Emirates, to urge foreigners to dress more modestly. Reporter Katy Watson quotes Asma, one of the organizers:

“The way some people dress here is offensive to our beliefs,” she told me. “Malls are public places and there are families and children.” A sundress, she says, is good for a beach, but not for shopping.

Asma and her companions aren’t just targeting women parading around in bikinis or other skimpy clothing. Men are likewise expected to adhere to public notices asking patrons to keep their shoulders and knees covered. Tweets from the group range from suggestions that “an extra few inches of cloth won’t kill you,” to the need for a separate police department to deal with clothing related offenses. While setting up a special branch of law enforcement seems a little excessive, dressing modestly out of respect for prevalent (Muslim) beliefs in a foreign city seems reasonable. A few questions:

1. Emiratis — and presumably conservative Muslims — only account for roughly 20% of the UAE’s population (the remainder being largely resident ex-pats). That’s about 1.6 million in a country of 8 million people. Is it fair to expect the majority of UAE citizens to adhere to a belief upheld by a select minority? At what point would a “modesty” law infringe on the rights of non-Muslim citizens’ and residents’ rights to freedom of expression?

2. How much modesty is enough? Muslims are in no way homogenous. Different sects of Islam will have different versions of what is and isn’t appropriate. If the UAE passes a law requiring all garments to have sleeves and all shorts/skirts to be below the knee, what’s to stop a law requiring women to wear the hijab, or men the dishdasha, even if they’re not Muslim?

3. Would a strict dress code scare away tourists? As the UAE’s tourism industry expands, the last thing government officials would want to do is put off foreigners. With average summer temperatures hitting 104 degrees F, I’m not sure all tourists — especially those unused to a hot, arid climate — would be thrilled about wearing more, as opposed to less clothing (while still being tasteful, of course).

4. Politics. Always tricky territory. According to Watson’s article, there are two prevailing voices in the modesty debate. Pro-democracy activists warn the government against favoring conservative Muslim views in an attempt to prevent them from becoming an overwhelming political voice. At the same time, Islamists are gaining ground in countries immediately surrounding the UAE. Might it be wise to push conservative policies to gain bargaining power with regional allies? What’s a country to do?

What do you think? Where would you draw the line?


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Photo Credit: Sodacan


Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin5 years ago

I get offended on a daily basis meeting women that parades around in burkhas and hijabs and can't seem to adjust to OUR standards of clothing!

sheila h.
sheila haigh5 years ago

@Alex H. What you don't seem to realise is that these days, there are plenty of young Muslim women, whose mothers, aunts, grandmothers etc. never covered themselves, who are choosing, of their own free will (even against the wishes of their families - fathers & brothers included) to wear the hijab and niqab. Their reasons are that they want their talents, abilities and intellectual capablities to speak for themselves, without reference to their looks/hair/body shape. Well, look in any western media and see for yourself how women are judged - always comments on their looks come first, with often little or no comment on their abilities - and you have to begin to wonder if they have a point.

Alex H.
Alex H5 years ago

Yes,the question is:"How much modesty is enough"?It seems to me that there is nothing in the Quran/Koran which states that women have to walk around the streets in a shroud?!Any woman who does is either bullied into it by the males in her family or has a very skewed version of what modesty entails?Why should women have to hide their beautiful hair or faces,because men supposedly can't control themselves?What sort of society are these places,if not backwards?In my opinion,women are kept subservient because the men are terrified of their power,a concept which belongs back in the Dark Ages!I do not want to see women in burqas and niqabs walking around the streets of my country,which champions women's rights.It is a total anathema to everything we have worked so hard for,to have a total,equal and civilised society.I wouldn't visit the UAE if you gave me a free luxury holiday there!

sheila h.
sheila haigh5 years ago


There are people who are prepared to comment and enlighten them, yet they refuse to even contemplate that their beliefs may be mistaken. That is what I call wilful ignorance.

sheila h.
sheila haigh5 years ago

@Muriel C. Thank you for your knowledgeable post.
Me, aggressive? No. Frustrated? Yes. Take a look at any thread on any website which mentions Muslim/Islam/Prophet Mohammed/Arab and you will see that over 50% of the comments are rabid anti-Muslim rants from people who know nothing about Islam or Muslims or even that you can be Arab and not a Muslim. They may have read a few items about the appalling attitudes of the Taliban in Afghanistan (not an Arab country, and in no way an example of Muslim beliefs), and they tar everyone else with the same brush.

More often than not, they don’t even read the article properly or any links in the article to get a fuller picture. Nor, apparently, do they read any of the comments from people who know more about the subject than themselves, and thus maybe learn something. No, they have their (ill-conceived) views, and wild horses aren’t going to pull those blinkers off.

Sadly, that even applies to people who on other threads show themselves to be intelligent, kind, considerate, polite and respectful; but mention the dreaded “I”- or “M”-word and the spite, hatred and contempt gushes forth. That is what I don’t understand. To make a comment about something of which you are ignorant, is forgivable. But to close your mind and refuse to learn anything from those who know somewhat more than you about the subject, is not. There are people who are prepared to comment and enlighten them, yet they r

Muriel C.
Muriel C5 years ago

Sheila, why so aggressive? Most of us do not ask for Muslims to not follow the Quran. If anything, were they to actually follow it, that they would treat their women much better (yes I read it). Not only does the Quran NOT require head to toe covering for women and allows women a lot more rights than the later developed customs (including that of inheriting and own and exploit her own property independently of male relatives interference), but it forbids men from disrobing a woman against her will and/or selling her (IE, no forced marriage, rape, proxenetism allowed). As it is in many traditional cultures in Eur-Asia and Maghreb, modesty is required from both genders.
I offer others the same respect I demand for myself and wouldn't dream of imposing my mores in a foreign country. The choice remains mine, however, to forgo visiting countries with mores I can't abide.

Georgia Armstrong
Georgia a5 years ago

To Sheila H: I have read about the customs in the Middle East. That's why I intend to never set foot over there. Talk all you wish, I don't care for the Muslim way of life and will remain in the USA where I have freedom to do as I wish without a damned man lording it over me. No thanks.

ii q.
g d c5 years ago

if people do not want to respect others customs, they don;t need to visit those places either...

their tourist dollars are welcome many other places...

Lori A.
Lori A5 years ago

People need to get over their hang ups about the human body. In a truly healthy society, individuals should be able to walk around naked without fear of causing offense or lewd thoughts.

Barbara Mann
Barb Mann5 years ago

I believe it has a lot to do with showing respect! Period! We need more respect in this world!