'Bars for Ramadan' list sparks protest in Dubai

Dubai is known for having a more vibrant nightlife than its neighbors, but a recent magazine article listing bars that will be serving during Ramadan has upset some Emiratis.

Story highlights

  • Time Out Dubai's list of bars open during Ramadan has upset Emiratis
  • An online campaign against the publication has emerged on Twitter
  • Readers felt the concept of promoting drinking during Ramadan was offensive
  • Many Western residents of the Emirate felt the response was overblown

An English-language magazine in Dubai has been accused of disrespecting Islam by recommending places to drink during Ramadan.

Time Out Dubai, a popular city guide in the Emirate, published the offending article in its Ramadan issue, which promised to help readers "make the most of the Holy Month."

The story, headlined "5 to try: bars in Ramadan," listed bars in the city that were remaining open throughout Ramadan, giving their hours of operation.

During Ramadan, a month in the Islamic calendar for fasting and piety, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk, and prohibitions against behaviors considered sinful, such as drinking alcohol, are more keenly observed.

After the magazine tweeted a link to an online version of the article, it was circulated by influential Emirati users of the social media site, prompting an online campaign using the #stoptimeoutdubai hashtag.

The backlash highlighted cultural tensions that exist between the mainly Muslim Emiratis, who make up 17% of Dubai's population, and the foreigners who have become part of the country's make-up as it has modernized into a global hub.

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One Twitter user said the article showed "how some people who (live) here have no respect to the culture and the people at all," while another said his culture was being "perverted by alcoholics," and tweeted at the magazine to "keep your filth away." Some Westerners living in the UAE responded that the outrage was an overreaction.

The magazine apologized, saying it respected "local culture and traditions" and claiming the article, which was removed from the site, was an "error of judgment on our part." But the apology was not enough to appease some users, who continued to call for staff at the magazine to be fired.

Mahra Al Shamsi, an Emirati English teacher living in Ras Al Khaimah, described the article as shocking.

"Have they lost their marbles? Do they not remember that, even though this magazine is targeted for expats, they are living in the United Arab Emirates -- an Arab country with very strong Islamic values and beliefs."

Al Shamsi said that Emiratis respected foreign customs when abroad. "Is this the thanks we get? Frankly, this should be mutual."

But Fiona Du Vivier, a Scottish account manager who has lived in Dubai for nearly two years, thought the campaign was a "huge overreaction" to an article that, while perhaps poorly judged, was not disrespectful or insulting.

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"We are in one of the few countries in the world where you have to curtail your behavior whether you're participating in Ramadan or not, out of respect," she said. "Which is fair enough, I chose to live in this country and I choose to respectfully follow its customs."

"Having said that," she said, "there's a huge proportion of the country that do not participate in Ramadan. The article was merely pointing to a facility that's available for non-fasting Muslims and non-Muslims. When it was pointed out it could be taken as disrespectful, they took it down and apologized."

She said some of the angry tweets she had seen -- that the journalist should burn in hell, or threatening to assault anyone drinking during the holy month -- were "not in the spirit of Ramadan itself, which is about forgiveness and compassion."

Al Shamsi said while the article may have been pointing out something factual, the linkage of the concept of drinking with Ramadan was offensive. "The disrespectful bit comes in when they rub it in your face. This is like going to a poor country and writing an article about luxury ... It's not appropriate."

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Omar Abu Omar, a Dubai-based social media marketer, said while the article was not offensive, as bar and entertainment options were the magazine's standard fare, the timing was inappropriate. More than anything though, he said, it highlighted the potential pitfalls of social media.

"In my opinion, they made a mistake of sharing it on their Twitter feed, as it would have gone unnoticed otherwise," he said. "It's a lesson in using social media, and choosing your content and posts carefully, as a seemingly harmless and simple post can lead to such uproar."

Time Out Dubai did not respond to requests for comment.

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