Before I came to the Emirates, I thought that since it was a Muslim country, I would need a male escort to go outside. After I arrived, I quickly found out that I was completely wrong. Even women wearing niqab, who I assumed most likely to do nothing without a male escort, were driving around and going through their daily activities all by themselves.
Yes, a women can go outside by herself in the Emirates. No, you don’t have to wear abaya or hijab to fit in. The standard dress code is pretty simple, just cover your shoulders, knees, and everything in between.
In my opinion, living in the Emirates doesn’t require much of a lifestyle change. Of course people who include partying in their lifestyle can’t drink alcohol, or show up drunk, in Sharjah; also, public displays of affection on campus can result in disciplinary action. If you think about it, public intoxication and public displays of affection are often looked down upon in the US, the only difference is that here they are potentially illegal.
There is some degree of gender segregation in the Emirates due to Islam encouraging a respectable distance between the two genders, and not because of any segregation imposed by the government. This does not mean men and women do not mix; in fact, the contrary is true, and it is completely normal for both genders to interact. However people here have a different comfort level and often avoid becoming best friends with people of the opposite gender in order to avoid any religiously unlawful situations that may arise. This fosters a sense of sisterhood – or brotherhood – that is very pleasant.
Since women wear more modest clothing, which means more is covered and clothes are not as tight, it’s harder to tell what someone’s body looks like. I personally think this emphasizes what you’re wearing instead of what your body looks like; and, it’s easier to change your wardrobe than your genetics. Hijab also plays a role in this, since hair can be the difference between normal and knockout, and not everyone is blessed with gorgeous locks.
Sexuality is not on public display in the Emirates, and media such as pictures of underwear models do get censored. The woman in the picture is perfectly censored to the point that her skin is a blob of white; the only untouched parts are her hair and outfit. Pornographic material is not available for purchase in this country, but people do find a way around the internet censors.
Perhaps the deepest effect of Islam on this country is its collective nature. However, there will be more about the importance of the family and community in a later post!