Qatar is a Muslim nation, with laws, customs and practices rooted in Islam. The country is neither as liberal as Dubai in the United Arab Emirates nor as conservative as parts of Saudi Arabia. Most of its citizens are Sunni Muslim.
Qatar’s most powerful clan originates from the Arabian Peninsula’s landlocked interior, where the Wahhabi ideology was born. Its national mosque is named after the 18th century religious figure, Mohammed Ibn Abdul-Wahhab, who spurred the ultraconservative interpretation of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism.
Visitors to this mosque and others in Qatar are asked to dress conservatively, with men covering their knees and women preferably donning loose-flowing robes known as abayas and headscarves.
Unlike Saudi Arabia, where adherence to Wahhabism led to strict segregation of unmarried men and women, banned women from driving and kept concerts, cinemas and even yoga off-limits for decades, Qatar has long sponsored the arts, allowed women to participate in high levels of governance and encouraged tourists to feel at ease in the country. It also permits the sale of alcohol in licensed hotels and bars.
As fans travel to Qatar for the FIFA World Cup this year, here’s a look at how Islam is practiced in the country:
Islam in Qatar
Mosques in Qatar amplify the Muslim call to prayer five times a day on loudspeakers, including at dawn and dusk.
It is common to hear Muslims use phrases such as “alhamdulillah”, which means “praise be to God” or “thank God,” and “Inshallah,” which means “if God wills it.” The traditional Arabic Muslim greeting of “as-salamu alaikum,” means “peace be upon you.” References to God, such “ya Allah” and “Allahu akhbar,” can be heard in times of tribulation or celebration.
Muslims believe God revealed the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. He is not only considered part of a long line of major prophets, including Moses and Jesus, but is also considered the last prophet in Islam.
Islam is a monotheistic religion with belief in only one God. Muslims believe the Quran is a continuation of the core values of the Torah and Bible.
Qatar’s laws are rooted in Islamic Shariah law, but also includes civil laws.
Taboos in Qatar
Most Qatari women wear the modest head covering or headscarf, known as hijab, and the long black robes known as abayas. Qatari men dress in traditional long, loose white garments known as a “thoub” — pronounced “thuwb.”
In general, tourists are expected to dress in a way that is sensitive to Qatar’s norms, including avoiding public displays of affection such as kissing, even between married couples. Transparent clothing and skin-baring is reserved strictly for pools and beaches.
Some Muslim women also prefer not to shake hands with men to whom they are not directly related. In greetings, it is customary to allow women to initiate handshakes if they choose.
While alcohol is permitted at hotel restaurants and bars, it is illegal to consume it in general public spaces. Though it might be somewhat tolerated during the World Cup, it is otherwise not allowed to be openly drunk in public. At the World Cup, alcohol will be available in certain public “designated areas”.
Drugs are also strictly prohibited in Qatar, as is homosexuality and crossdressing. World Cup organizers have told The Associated Press that anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, can come “without fear of any sort of repercussions.”
Tolerance for other religions
Qatar’s laws punish “offending” Islam or any of its rites or beliefs, as well as committing blasphemy against Islam, Christianity or Judaism.
The circulation of texts that provoke religious strife or contain material that defames one of these three religions is a punishable offense. The government closely monitors and censors websites, newspapers, magazines and books if they display content deemed as derogatory of Islamic values.
Authorities generally permit various faiths to practice privately, but proselytizing for any religion other than Islam may result in a prison sentence. Hotels and stores, however, display Christmas trees and decorations in December.
The only religions registered in Qatar to have their own places of worship are Islam and Christianity, according the U.S. State Department.