The UAE has made major changes in Islamic personal law, taking a historic decision on Saturday. Under these changes, allowing unmarried couples to cohabitate, loosening alcohol restrictions and criminalizing so-called “honor killings.” The move to change stringent Islamic laws is seen as an attempt by the emirate’s rulers to keep pace with the changing times. Along with these changes, another important announcement has been made in the US mediation under which efforts will be made to improve relations between the UAE and Israel. This will increase the influx of Israeli tourists into the UAE and open the way for investment in the UAE. The broadening of personal freedoms reflects the changing profile of a country that has sought to bill itself as a skyscraper-studded destination for Western tourists and businesses, despite its legal system based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law. The changes also reflect the efforts of the Emirates’ rulers to keep pace with a rapidly changing society. In a country where expatriates outnumber citizens nearly nine to one, the amendments will also permit foreigners to avoid Islamic Shariah courts on issues like marriage, divorce and inheritance.
Although liquor and beer are widely available in bars and clubs in the UAE’s luxuriant coastal cities, individuals previously needed a government-issued license to purchase, transport or have alcohol in their homes. The new rule would apparently allow Muslims, who have been barred from obtaining licenses, to drink alcoholic beverages freely. Now a person 21 years or above will not be fined for drinking, selling or possessing liquor. The reforms aim to boost the country’s economic and social standing and “consolidate the UAE’s principles of tolerance. Apart from this, under another amendment, freedom to ‘live together without marriage couples’ has been given. It has long been a serious crime category in the UAE. Although in a city like Dubai, the administration used to be a little relaxed about foreigners staying in live, but there was a risk of punishment. The government also decided to get rid of laws protecting honour crimes, a widely criticized tribal custom in which a male relative may evade prosecution for assaulting a woman seen as dishonoring a family. The punishment for a crime committed to eradicate a woman’s shame,” for promiscuity or disobeying religious and cultural strictures, will now be the same for any other kind of assault.