UAE Religious Tolerance: JAIL if you eat in public

We all know about UAE’s focus on religious tolerance, specially with this year being the Year of Tolerance. However, I don’t see the religious tolerance in jailing people for eating in public, regardless of the circumstances.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting (from sunrise to sunset). Fasting in Ramadan is regarded as one of the Pillars of Islam.

Article 313 of the UAE penal code says: “A person who eats or drinks in public during Ramadan, or encourages the act of consuming in public can face up to one month in prison or up to Dh2,000 fine.”

Khaleej Times reported, according to legal advocates, that the UAE penal code does not differentiate between Muslims and non-Muslims.

How exactly is it religious tolerance, or tolerating those who are not members of our religion, by legally binding them to rules that ultimately force them to participate in our religious activities?

There are alot of laws like this, and I admit that sometimes they are understandable, but this one isn’t. The the main concern here is that eating or drinking in public is a human right, and it doesn’t harm anyone, regardless if they are fasting or not.

Many people incorporate eating or drinking in public as one of their daily life rituals. For example, many people cope with the stress of their jobs by heading out to a public place where they enjoy a meal and a coffee while breathing some fresh air and soaking in some sunlight. To take away that from them for a whole month is destructive and disruptive to their lifestyle and routine. Not to forget that we are adding psychological pressure by forcing them to comply to something that they absolutely don’t believe in.

Fasting is a discipline and an exercise of resisting temptations, not forcibly removing them. We are supposed to limit our pleasures, not other people’s pleasures. If I, as a Muslim, know there are people eating in public in the streets, then it is my challenge to walk the streets and resist the temptation.

Additionally, this law in itself is not Islamic. There were no commands given to Muslims to punish non-muslims for eating in public. The prophet of Islam preached true tolerance.

Let’s have a look, for comparison, at the country with the biggest Muslim population in the world. Indonesia has a population of 270 million with a whopping 87% Muslim majority, that’s 242 million Muslims living with 36 million non-muslims. But still, they have no such laws, and this has in no way disrupted their Ramadan or reduced it’s holiness. On the contrary, the non-muslims mostly avoid eating/drinking in public voluntarily (which makes a huge difference) as an act of mutual respect and tolerance.

A recent poll we made on our Facebook page returned a result of 54% out of 14,000 voters saying that non-muslims should be allowed to eat in public during Ramadan.

Most comments in approval of giving non-Muslims the freedom mostly say the same thing: that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance and that fasting is a Muslim’s own discipline that should not limit others’ freedom.

Comments against giving non-Muslims the freedom focused on one point. Respect. But their definition of respect is that non-muslims should be forced to respect Muslims that are fasting, and forcefully prevented from eating/drinking in public. I find this quite scary that there are people, Muslims in particular, that truly believe that we should force people to respect our fasting, which is very aggressive and oppressive, very opposite to what Islam, the religion of peace, teaches.

Let’s say if I do agree with this law, I would still find it contradictory or hypocritical that TV channels, specially national ones, are allowed to surprise fasting viewers watching a show with a sudden food/drink commerical. Is it because it is damaging to the economy to stop those commercials? And why aren’t people boycotting these channels? Or is our aggression reserved to only non-Muslims as a power move?

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