You could be sharing an apartment with a friend of the opposite sex. And the arrangement could be innocent, purely for financial reasons. But in the eyes of Sharia law you are committing an offence.More and more people are being punished because they claim they were unaware of the law and its clauses.

There are hundreds of cases such as these that emerge each year either from the police or the courts. An increasing number of men and women, who are not blood relatives nor legally married, and have shared a flat, room or even sat in tinted cars, are being jailed and deported, a lawyer said. These men and women have shared no relationship.

Dr Adel Khamis Al Mimari from Al Itazan Consultant and Advocates said they are being punished in accordance with Sharia law. The clause is known as “Tawajed” or “Tahseen Al Ma’asiya”. These couples have been punished under this clause: sharing a closed place and encouraging sin even though they shared no relationship.

He told Gulf News: “The bottom line is awareness. Many foreigners are not familiar with Sharia law and hence they are punished. If these couples go unnoticed, then there is no trouble. But if the authorities for some reason or another know they are sharing a ?closed space’ they can be punished. This is the law.”

All about respect

“These couples believe they are leading a normal life, like they would in their home countries. But this is considered a sin here. Filipino nationals top the list of nationalities who fall into this trap followed by Indians, Europeans and Chinese. People should be educated about this issue to avoid problems.”

Dr Ahmad Al Qubaisi, a leading Islamic scholar, told Gulf News that every nation has its culture and traditions. Each nation should respect others.

“Westerners respect each other and they know their countries’ traditions and laws. So why when it comes to Muslims they claim that they do not know anything about the traditions and culture? The West knows well that Muslims, like Hindus, Christians and Jews, have their culture and traditions. They should respect our religion,” Dr Al Qubaisi said.

The tradition

“Our tradition is against a man and woman, who are not legally related, mingling privately or being in a closed place alone, while in the West they can have a sexual relationship even though they are not married. Our traditions are very different,” Dr Al Qubaisi said.

“We see many such cases of foreign men and women in courts. They say they do not know the traditions and religion here. They should know and respect our tradition the same way we respect their tradition and religion,” he said.

The sentence

Dr Khalifa Rashid Al Sha’ali, Dean of the Faculty of Law at Ajman University, said if a man and a woman who are not related are caught alone in a private place, they face a jail sentence or lashes even if they were not involved in any suspicious act.

It is up to the judge’s discretion to decide whether they should be deported.

Dr Al Sha’ali, a former Ajman Police Chief, told Gulf News that during his tenure, he dealt with several such cases.

Mohammad Yousuf, Deputy Director of the Dubai Courts Department, said while the Federal punitive law is implemented in the UAE, the situation is different in Dubai. The Tawajed or Tahseen Al Ma’asiya clause, he said, is not implemented in Dubai.

Sultan Khalifa Bin Bakheet Al Matroushi, Chairman of the Ajman Federal Appeal Court, said if a man and woman are sitting alone in the work place or in front of people, they will not be charged. If they are found in a bedroom or in a house or car and the circumstances are suspicious, they will face charges even if they have not committed adultery. The couple can also be deported, he said.

Justice minister explains the law

Mohammad Bin Nakhira Al Daheri, Minister of Justice, told Gulf News that according to Sharia, if a man and woman are found in a closed place alone they may get arrested, but he gave an assurance that they are held for good reason. He stressed that the police would investigate first.

“If a couple is found alone in a closed place such as a house, room or car they may face legal action. There also must be a complaint against them. However, if their actions are not against public morals such as being in their work place or inside a lift, of course no action would be taken. If police receive a tip that a man and woman are in a closed place, they will investigate and if they are not doing anything against the law they will not be punished.

“There must be a complaint and investigation from police. The public prosecution and the judge can decide if something illegal was going on,” Al Daheri said.

What the people say

Kristina from Macedonia has been living in the UAE for the last six months. She said she has no idea about Sharia law or the clause, which prohibits men and women, who are not blood relatives nor legally married, from sharing a flat, room or even sitting in tinted cars.

“People must have privacy. It is strange that a neighbour or a watchman can call the police if two people are in a private place alone. Why don’t people call the police when they hear someone beating up his wife at home?

“Many of us here are not Muslims. We respect Islam and the traditions of this land. Hence, our way of life should also be respected.”

She said it is the responsibility of companies who hire people from abroad to make them aware about Sharia.

“This law does not exist in my country, where it is normal to be with your boyfriend alone in a closed place. I think if companies alert people before they come here, it will help them.”

Mohammad Elias from India is in his 20s and not married. He has been in the UAE for two months, but says he has never heard about the clause.

“I may not agree with the clause, but I do respect the law of the land here, and I think foreigners should adhere to the law,” he said.

Tess Yema from the Philippines works as a teacher in a school in Sharjah and has been here since August. “I am aware of the law. I have a brother-in-law who has been in the UAE for many years. He told me about the clause.

“Before coming to the UAE, the authorities in my country told me about Sharia. I knew these aspects very well before coming here. I respect the law in this country and I respect their way of thinking even if it is different from the one in my country,” Yema said. “I was even told about the dress code here. I knew that if I offended the law I would face punishment,” she said.

Samer Assaf is married with two daughters. His family is in Syria.

“I have been living here for more than 15 years, but I have never heard about this clause, not in my country and not here. I am a Christian, but I respect the traditions and customs of others.”

Lucia Alinea from the Philippines, has been in the UAE for a few months only, but she is well aware of the clause. “My brother has been here for many years and he is aware of the Sharia law. “I tried to learn as much about the customs and traditions here before leaving the Philippines. We have to respect the law here or anywhere,” said Lucia, who is a teacher in a private school in Sharjah.