Sharia Law: What it is & What you need to know

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June 23, 2020

The United Arab Emirates is home to over 200 nationalities, only of which less than 20% of which are Emiratis. This makes the UAE home to one of the world's highest percentage of expats. 
The Emirates are full of exciting landmarks, good food, nice weather and opportunities when it comes to starting a business. It’s not surprising that the UAE pulls so many tourists over every year.
However, whilst these countries are both modern and contemporary in many, many aspects, the local laws mirror more traditional beliefs that are based on Islamic Sharia. Many individuals and families that relocate don’t research local laws find themselves having a culture shock once they move.
In this blog post, we will be giving you the rundown of Sharia Law and covering important topics you need to know.

  • What is Sharia Law?
  • What you need to know
  • Sharia Law & Expats
  • Sharia Law & Tax

What is Sharia Law?

Many of the laws that people follow in the UAE are based on Sharia law. This is something that you should keep in mind whilst you are there.
In simple terms, Sharia law is the Islamic legal system followed predominantly by Muslims. Sharia Law is a code for Muslim indivduals to adhere to. This can surround a lot of their everyday life activities, including prayers, donations, investing and fasting. 
Other areas of that Muslims’ lives in which they might look to Sharia law could include family law, finance and business.
Overall, as a legal system, Sharia law regulates public behaviour, private behaviour and private beliefs.

What you need to know

The primary knowledge you should have if you are planning to relocate to the United Arab Emirates, 80% of their current local population is Muslim. Islam is actually the offical religion of the UAE  where  the majority of the residents practise Sharia Law. 
When visiting Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman or any of the seven Emirates, you will be asked to respect Islam and Arabic culture and laws. This can also be said if you are looking to relocate to the UAE. 
Getting to know the laws and educating yourself on the official religion is an important part to understand during your move. Secondly, Sharia Law has two main sources, The Qur’an and The Sunnah. Both of these are considered precious texts and it is an interpretative law which means that it has a degree of flexibility that allows it to function in different societies and cultures.
A lot of the laws that govern the UAE have originated from Sharia Law and it’s important that you put extra time into learning about the cultural differences before relocating.

Sharia Law & Expats

Researching the laws in the UAE before you move is important because you will be living under new regulations. 
If you are moving with children, it is imperative to understand that under UAE law, the person who is in custody of the child may not permanently settle him/her in another country if it in any way could cause harm or distress to the other parent. 
This could refer to parenting, where both parties live in completely separate countries. 
If one parent can not visit their children due to the distance (usually defined as not being able to travel and return home on the same day) then this could be considered a problem with the Federal Supreme Council.
Secondly, it is important to consider your own relationships when living under Sharia Law. It is rare in the UAE that unmarried couples will live together and being an expat within the country still means this rule will apply to you. Whilst convictions of this sort are few, it’s an important thing to consider.

Sharia Law & Tax

As a lot of the laws that the UAE operate under have been brought about (due to Sharia Law), it is important to do some research around how it can affect areas of finance such as tax. When making a Last Will and Testament, Sharia Law plays an important role. If you don’t seek advice from Investment specialists after a loved one has departed, it could leave you with some unforeseen inheritance tax charges. There are a number of rules you have to consider when preparing a will.

Example one of Sharia Law & Tax
A surviving wife is entitled to one eighth of her husband’s estate. However, she could receive a quarter if they have no children. If someone passes away and is not married, has no father, or children then by default, their mother will receive half of the overall estate.
However, in the case of a surviving husband, he would be entitled to a quarter of his wife’s estate or half if they have had no offspring. 

Example two of Sharia Law & Tax
Another example would be if you an individual's grandparent were to pass. If a grandmother or grandfather have grandchildren, the male’s are entitled to 50% more of their leftover estate than the female children.
In the United Kingdom their estate is exempt from inheritance tax, when an individual leaves their estate, whether that be their house, property or belongings, to their spouse or partner, who also lives in the UK. 

However, if a will has been drafted under Sharia law then only a certain amount of the estate will be given to the surviving partner. This could mean the case is potentially opened up to the possibility of paying inheritance tax on the deceased’s estate. 

If you need any help or advice when it comes to planning your Last Will and Testament, contact one of our tax advisors in the UAE and we can help.