Culture in Qatar

General

Nearly all Qataris profess Islam. Besides ethnic Arabs, much of the population migrated from various nations to work in the country’s oil industry. Arabic serves as the official language, but many residents understand English. Only 25% of the population of Qatar is Qatari. The remainder is foreign, overwhelmingly Pakistani. Most Qataris are of Arab ancestry, though there are a number of families of Persian origin.

Although Arabs are understanding and unlikely to take offence at social blunders, provided they arise from ignorance rather than malice, you will be made far more welcome if you acquaint yourself with local ways of doing things. It’s important to remember that you’re a foreigner and you must therefore adapt to the customs and social behaviour of the region – not the other way round. In addition to actions and behaviour which are regarded as criminal, there are certain unwritten rules that you must observe in order not to offend local sensibilities.

When contrasted with other Arab states such as Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, Qatar has comparatively liberal laws. Women can drive in Qatar, whereas they may not legally drive in Saudi Arabia. The country has undergone a period of liberalization and modernization after the current Emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, came to power after overthrowing his father. For example, women can dress mostly as they please in public (although in practice local Qatari women generally don the black abaya). Before the liberalization, it was taboo for men to wear shorts in public. The laws of Qatar tolerate alcohol to a certain extent. However, public bars in Qatar operate only in expensive hotels (whereas the emirates of Dubai and Bahrain allow the establishment of nightclubs and other venues, however, also only in conjuction with a hotel).

Religion

The official religion of Qatar is Islam, and the vast majority of Qataris are Sunni Muslims. The country adopted Islam in the 7th century and has remained committedly devout to the faith since then.
Public holidays in Qatar, apart from National Day, are also religious holidays. The main ones are Eid Al Fitr (which follows Ramadan) and Eid Al Adha, which follows 40 days after Eid Al Fitr.

Qatar respects followers of other religions and it is expected that non-Muslims resident in Qatar should mutually respect the laws and customs of the Islam, the official religion of the country. This means adherence modest standards of dress and behaviour in public, in addition refraining from mocking or denigrating Islam in any way.

Qatar explicitly uses Wahhabi law as the basis of its government, and the vast majority of its citizens follow this specific Islamic doctrine. Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab founded Wahhabism, a puritanical version of Islam which takes a literal interpretation of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. In the eighteenth century, Abd Al-Wahhab formed a compact with the al-Saud family, the founders of Saudi Arabia. Perhaps as an effect of the importation, Wahhabism takes a more tolerant form in Qatar than in Saudi Arabia, though it still governs a large portion of Qatari mores and rituals.

Dressing

There are two distinct types of women’s clothing in the region: one for locals, the other for expatriates. Outside the home, most Arab women dress according to religious custom, which means that they must cover most of the body, from head to foot. The traditional black overgarment (abaya) is ankle length with long sleeves and a high neckline, and the hair is covered. Some Arab women are totally covered, including their face and hands, especially Saudis and those with strictly religious husbands. This is meant to protect women protection from unwanted attention

The region’s hot climate and customs call for informal but smart dressing. Arabs frown on clothes which reveal the shoulders, arms and legs, and any woman dressing provocatively will be regarded as being of ‘easy virtue’ or perhaps even as a prostitute. In the home, however, when not entertaining close friends or relatives, Arab women often adopt western dress, particularly younger women, and there are no restrictions on the way foreign women may dress in private.

Arab men wear the thobe, a loose, ankle-length robe made from fine white cotton (or heavier woollen material in winter). There are different styles of thobe, both in the cut of the cloth and in the fastenings at the neck and front. Perhaps the most distinctive are those worn by the Omanis, which sport a tassel. The thobe can be worn for all occasions, either social or business. An outer cloak, the bisht, is worn on formal occasions and can be very costly, with border embroidery in gold thread and the material itself of the finest quality.

The traditional, distinctive head covering is the guthra, a white or red and white checkered cloth held in place by the agal, a black ‘rope’ which was originally a camel tether. There are different types of agal: for example, Qataris normally wear a more African-style headdress, with two long ‘tails’ reaching down the back. Arab men sometimes wear casual dress on very informal occasions or at the beach, but Saudi men are strongly encouraged to wear national dress at all times.

Obviously, foreign men aren’t expected to wear Arab garments, and western dress is the norm. Men should avoid wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts in the street, as is these are regarded as excessively casual, although with the development of tourism, this attitude is softening. However, suits are rarely worn in the Gulf, except for important business meetings and related social events. Standard wear in the office is a shirt (usually long-sleeved), tie and lightweight trousers.

Music

Qatar is an Arab country located in the Middle East. Its culture is based on Bedouin poetry, song and dance. Traditional dances in Doha are performed on Friday afternoons; one such dance is the Ardah, a stylized martial dance performed by two rows of dancers who are accompanied by an array of percussion instruments, including al-ras (a large drum whose leather is heated by an open fire), tambourine and cymbals, along with small drums. Other instruments played in Qatar include the oud and rebaba, both string instruments, as well as the Arabian flute.

Most Qataris (in modern times) enjoy listening to Khaliji music in the style of the traditional Bedouin music. This music dominates the airwaves in the capital Doha as well as in the rest of the country.

Falconry

These birds of prey were used originally by Bedouins to hunt game, providing an important addition to their diets. In Qatar today, the tradition of falconry remains a major sporting activity during the hunting season from October to March. During the off-season, owners and falcons continue with training exercises. Its incredible eyesight allows the falcon to lock onto its prey; it can fly at speeds of over 100 kilometres per hour and dives at twice that rate. An important bond is created between owners and falcons, and the birds are treated with great care and respect.

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