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Qatar - Religion

Qatar is an Islamic nation and observes all the customs & holidays as such. The workweek is Saturday through Wednesday with the weekend being Thursday and Friday. Many of the businesses are open on Thursday but all are closed on Friday. Business hours are normally 0800-1200 in the morning with a lunch break between 1200-1600 and 1600-2000 in the evening. The constitution provides for freedom of worship and forbids discrimination based on religion in accordance with the law and the requirements of protecting public order and morality, but the government continued to prohibit proselytizing by non-Muslims and placed some restrictions on public worship. Among non-Muslims, only Christians have requested and been allowed to rent space for public worship. The Ministry of Justice maintains a registration procedure for Christian marriages performed by registered churches in the country. Adherents of other faiths may privately practice their religion without harassment.

The state religion is Islam. Both Sunni and Shia Muslims practiced Islam freely. Shia Muslims (approximately 10 percent of the citizen population) organized traditional Shia ceremonies and performed rites in their mosques because they chose not to perform them publicly. The government allowed Shia to build and decorate Shia mosques without restriction, and Shia were well represented in the lower and middle levels of government and in the business community.

The government and the ruling family are linked inextricably to Islamic institutions and practices. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs administers the construction of mosques, clerical affairs, and Islamic education for adults and new converts. The Ministry of Education administers Islamic education in public schools. The emir participated in public prayers during both Eid holiday periods and financed the Hajj journeys of some pilgrims.

In October 2009 the authorities hosted the Seventh Doha Conference on Interfaith Dialogue. More than 250 participants from 59 countries, including Muslim clerics, Christian clergy, and Jewish rabbis, participated in the conference. At the conclusion of the conference, participants approved a declaration calling for interfaith cooperation to advance human rights, protect holy sites, and combat hunger and disease.

There was no prohibition of or action to discourage specific religions or religious factions. The government provided legal status to Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, and many Indian Christian churches. The government allowed recognized congregations to open bank accounts and to sponsor clergy for visas. Construction continued on five Christian churches on land leased from the government. Hindus, Buddhists, Baha'is, and members of other religious groups do not operate as freely as Christian congregations do.

Religious services took place without prior government authorization; authorities have asked congregations not to advertise them in advance or use visible religious symbols such as outdoor crosses.

Criminal law provides for prison terms of up to 10 years for individuals proselytizing for any religion other than Islam on behalf of an organization, society, or foundation. Proselytizing on behalf of an individual for any religion other than Islam can result in a sentence of up to five years' imprisonment. The law provides for imprisonment of as long as two years for individuals who possess written or recorded materials or items that support or promote missionary activity.

In May 2009 the government issued a number of deportation orders, later rescinded, to a multinational group of Christian expatriates allegedly involved in unauthorized activities at labor camps in industrial areas. Other deportation orders for two Indian Christians were still being processed at year's end.

Converting to another religion from Islam is technically a capital offense, but there were no executions or other punishments handed down or carried out for such an act during the year.

Disclosure of religious affiliation is required when applying for a passport or other identity documents, but affiliation is not listed in the issued documents.

Islamic instruction was compulsory in public schools. Although there were no restrictions on non-Muslims providing private religious instruction for children, most foreign children attended secular private schools. There were no religious private schools.

The government regulated the publication, importation, and distribution of non-Islamic religious literature. Individuals could import Bibles and other religious items for personal or congregational use. Government officials only monitored Islamic religious literature and copies of the Koran. Religious materials for use at Christmas and Easter were readily available in local shops; however, Bibles were not publicly available in local bookstores, either in Arabic or in English. Christmas decorations were on display in many public places, including shopping malls and in the common areas of housing compounds. Such decorations were available for sale at stores throughout Doha.

There was no indigenous Jewish community; the few Jews in the country were foreigners with no restrictions on traveling to or working in the country. On occasion, in response to political events and developments in the region, some of the country's privately owned Arabic-language newspapers carried cartoons depicting offensive caricatures of Jews and Jewish symbols and editorial comparisons of Israeli leaders and Israel to Hitler and the Nazis. These occurred primarily in the daily newspapers Al-Watan, Al-Sharq, Al-Arab, and Al-Raya, and drew no government response.

Qatar's brand of Islam is both traditional and progressive. It is traditional in that it is based on scripture and standing interpretations, but progressive in its tolerance for various Islamic schools of thought and moderate social strictures. Even though Amirs of Qatar have referred to themselves and their subjects as "Wahabi," use of this term is increasingly pejorative in Qatar today. While most Qataris, if pressed, would identify themselves as Salafis, they generally do not label themselves as anything other than Muslims. The tone for the country, and its religion, emanates from the Amir. The current Amir several years ago made a point of using the Wahabi term as a descriptor in public, but his director of communications at the time believes he did so to make clear to Saudi Arabia that Qatar alone would dictate the terms of its religious practices and the vocabulary used to describe them. In comparison to its Saudi neighbors, Qatar has increasingly chosen to define its religious practices in progressive and inclusive terms.

Qatari society is starkly different from its Saudi neighbor. Qatari women in large numbers cover their faces and hair, but they are not required by law to do so. They are allowed to drive cars. Alcohol is available in hotels and at state liquor outlets, and even during Ramadan can be found in hotel minibars. Restaurants and stores remain open during the call to prayer. Women and men work alongside each other in the workplace. In short, Qatar looks anything but Wahabi when compared to Saudi Arabia.

The more extreme Salafis in Qatar (like in Saudi Arabia) advocate a strong governmental role for the mosque. Their numbers, however, are small, and often the most extreme voices are non-Qatari. Some Qataris are becoming more "Americanized," or liberal in their Islamic views, though most remain "traditional but tolerant." Non-Qataris have often perceived Qatar as Salafi because Amir Abdullah bin Jasim Al Thani (the great-grandfather of the current Amir) pronounced himself to be one. The current Amir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, tried to maintain balance between Qatar's traditions and modernity. In this way, the Amir can ensure that Qatar is a friend of the U.S. without provoking the populace. The Amir is very careful to maintain historic architectural styles and traditional activities like camel racing even as Western-style advertising, Starbucks, and McDonald's have rapidly established themselves over the past five years.

Salafis continue to have the most influence in mosques and religious affairs, but they by no means have a monopoly. Ultimately, Qataris are traditional and, consistent with the Arab proverb, they "are on the path of their king." The current Amir (king) Hamad has tried to be practical in bringing about change. The introduction of alcohol, for example, was seen as practical given the increasing presence of foreigners in Qatar. The government gradually and quietly allowed alcohol in five-star hotels and over time people grew accustomed to it, and its distribution expanded. Despite the large number of automobile accidents that can now be attributed to alcohol, the government has not sought to clamp down on its sale and distribution. Rather, it has kept quiet about the role that alcohol plays in traffic accidents. conspiracy of silence, aimed at promoting tolerance, is the Qatari way.



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