Residents have called for better training for service staff over Ramadan policies after a cinema employee refused to sell a child a bottle of water because she is Muslim.
The incident, which occurred at Vox Cinema in Abu Dhabi's Yas Mall, was discussed on Facebook after Freya Jaffar, a mother of four, posted about her daughter's experience.
Ms Jaffar said she went to the cinema at around 3.30pm on Friday with her children, aged between 17 and five. When her eldest daughter tried to order a bottle of water, a staff member asked her if she was Muslim and fasting.
The cinema chain has apologised to Ms Jaffar, admitting the member of staff failed to "correctly" follow guidelines.
“They asked her, ‘are you Muslim?’ Obviously she said ‘yes,’” said Ms Jaffar. “And the lady said, ‘are you fasting?’ She said ‘I am not fasting today,’ which was humiliating for her saying that. Clearly there are reasons why a woman will not fast in a month.”
Ms Jaffar’s daughter tried to reason with the Vox employee, saying the water was for her siblings, who are aged five and six and not obligated to fast because they haven't reached puberty.
“The woman tilted her head and said 'hmm'.”
The employee ultimately refused to serve her, forcing Ms Jaffar’s daughter to leave the cinema and buy the water from the McDonald’s restaurant instead. By the time she arrived back, she had missed 25 minutes of the film.
“We were sitting there and my little one was saying 'mum I am really thirsty'. Everyone around us was eating,” said Ms Jaffar.
“It was the most ridiculous situation, being a Muslim and being made to feel uncomfortable in a Muslim country."
Ms Jaffar said she saw many others also being asked to show identification at the counters and being refused food and drink.
“I thought this was so wrong. It is beyond ridiculous. I am always telling people that small children can eat, or whatever. I have never had a problem,” she said.
She said she assumed it was a problem related to staff training, and urged all companies serving food to educate their employees.
“I feel there needs to be better training for non-Muslim staff, because they don’t understand what the regulations mean. I feel there is a disconnection. Perhaps they should have small focus groups prior to Ramadan.”
Ms Jaffar posted about the issue on her Abu Dhabi Q&A Facebook page, which she set up six years ago. The post has attracted almost 150 comments, and counting.
“I truly think the world has gone mad after today,” wrote Ms Jaffar.
Many members said how ridiculous the policy was with some saying they have faced the same problem.
One member wrote: “Had the same experience at Yas two years ago. I was pregnant and I was buying for the kids anyway. I ended up sending my then 6 year old with cash to buy and they let him purchase but not without some attitude.”
Another said the policy was also in place elsewhere last year.
"It's not only Vox cinema. I had the same experience with my kids last year and they wouldn't let me buy initially but told them it's for my kids. I think they took my Emirates ID copy before giving me what I asked for … never going to cinema again during Ramadan … especially during fasting hours."
One member, who is also Muslim, said it was none of someone’s business whether another person was fasting.
“There shouldn’t be any restrictions on kids, even if they are eating in public.”
Although the vast majority of comments condemned the cinema, a handful of people leapt to the employees’ defence.
“I think there is a confusion between what is the law, what act will get the establishment/staff a fine or loss of job, staff are scared to be wrong,” they wrote.
“There needs to be clarification for everyone I think. I haven’t been in a mall yet this Ramadan but I remember last time the food outlets (McDs and others) had boards up saying ‘non Muslims this way’, so I presume young Muslim children weren’t allowed in their either even though they don’t generally fast.”
Upon finding out about the incident, Vox Cinema contacted Ms Jaffar to apologise on behalf of their employee.
"We are aware of a customer complaint at one of our cinemas on Friday," a statement from the cinema said.
"Government guidelines in the UAE stipulate conditions for serving refreshments to Muslim and Non- Muslim customers prior to Iftar. In complying with this policy, a member of staff did not assess the situation correctly with a customer which led to a less than positive experience.
"We have taken measures to ensure this does not happen again and have already reached out to our guest to resolve the matter to her satisfaction."