KT Edit: Law on non-Muslim family affairs prove UAE is a beacon of civility
With the new civil law regulating non-Muslim family matters, many of these issues will now be dealt with locally
Earlier this month, Abu Dhabi announced it would soon be introducing a civil law that would create a court responsible for regulating non-Muslim family issues and a range of ancillary procedures that were previously unavailable in the Emirate.
The decree, introduced by the President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in his capacity as the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, noted that the law covers civil marriage, divorce, alimony, joint child custody, proof of paternity, and inheritance.
If you are anything like me, you will have friends and colleagues from all over the world, many of whom you have known for years, and some of whom will have experienced some personal issues due to their religious beliefs, marital status, or individual circumstances, which have had a potentially negative impact on their lives, emotionally and financially.
But with the new civil law regulating non-Muslim family matters, many of these issues will now be dealt with locally, enabling those affected to solve their problems without the additional stress and expense of leaving the UAE, who will no doubt be truly appreciative of such a progressive decision. It could even enhance the local economy by encouraging expats to marry in Abu Dhabi instead of travelling to other countries for their nuptials.
The new court to handle non-Muslim family matters will be set up in Abu Dhabi and will operate in both English and Arabic; it follows on from a number of legal changes that were introduced at a federal level in 2020, including decriminalising cohabitation between non-married couples, removing the requirement to have a liquor licence to consume alcohol, and cancelling provisions for leniency when dealing with so-called “honour killings”. Also, for the first time in the UAE, it allows babies born to unmarried foreign parents to obtain birth certificates if the father recognises paternity.
Youssef Saeed Al Abri, Undersecretary of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, noted at the time of announcement that the new legislation is the first of its kind in the world as it deals with the smallest details regarding non-Muslim family life.
This is noteworthy not only as a reflection of the UAE’s policy of inclusiveness, but also of its extremely progressive stance in establishing the nation as one of the world’s most attractive destinations for those with talent and skill, and where inclusivity goes beyond just an attitude, but becomes set in stone.
The UAE, where personal status laws on marriage and divorce have been based on Islamic Shariah principles, is taking these bold steps as an integral facet of its policy and vision to attract high-quality skilled and talented individuals from around the world to live, work and enjoy a good quality of life in order to maintain its competitive edge as a regional commercial and creative centre. For the present, though, the new law is only applicable in Abu Dhabi. While there is certainly ample anecdotal evidence that a relaxation in some laws will make a big difference to prospective expats who are undecided on making a huge move, at the same time the leadership will be acutely aware that a high degree of care is needed when easing regulations within the UAE’s renowned spirit of openness and tolerance – they will be observing how well it progresses and how much potential abuse the new system may encounter.
Now, while many news agencies around the world picked up the story, and most of those who did got it almost right in its interpretations, it is interesting to note that a lot of the ‘journalists’ who normally spend their time criticising the UAE have been unusually quiet on the story – perhaps such enlightened policies undermine their ability to be scornful in quite the same way.
It remains to be seen exactly how the new proposed civil court will benefit non-Muslims, particularly exactly how and to whom it applies, as some of the legalities and scope are still being ironed out. But in the meantime, this is another fine example of just how pro-active the UAE is in its quest to pursue civility and equality for all and its determination to be a beacon of tolerance.