Qatar is a beautiful desert region with some of the newest contemporary architecture, most unique foods & flavors and the most brilliant tropical climates of the Middle Eastern region. But what local customs and cultures should be taken into account before travelling to this wondrous land? Below we look through some of the most prominent and important ones to keep in mind.
Qatar through history has always been an Islamic Nation since the envoys from Muhammad traveled through the nation in the first few centuries AD. Today it still enjoys a majority of its inhabitants following the State Religion of Islam (about 65% of all citizens) and as such keeps to common Muslim practices and customs. This isn’t to say that other religions are non-existent, far from it, with around a third of all of its inhabitants being of other religions or non-religious (about 15% of these are Christian, 15% are Hindu, 4% Buddhist and 1% other or non-religious), but Islamic culture dominates the nation as a majority.
Among the typical Islamic customs and culture followed, Sharia Law is in place for the most part and as such Pork is completely outlawed except for sale in certain specialist shops for expatriate home cooking and all meat eaten by Muslims (and by extension, most meat sold) is Halal (prepared under accordance with Islamic teachings).
Muslim women are expected to keep to the traditional wear and at the very least, keep their head and a large majority of the body fully covered; these may include the Abaya (a long black body covering and the Hijab (a black head covering). Muslim men keep to traditional wear as well (such as the Thoub, a long white or lightly colored body covering) but this is not so strongly enforced and/or regulated.
Expatriates do not have these same restrictions and expectations in place, however, all citizens whether nationals or expatriates are expected to respect the Islamic culture and dress appropriately. Women are expected to keep their shoulders covered and should not wear short skirts. Additionally, any intimacy between men and women, even as teenagers, can lead to arrest. Homosexual behavior of any kind is illegal in Qatar.
Ramadan is also practiced by all Muslims in the region and during this time the authorities tend to be stricter about dress codes, even to expatriates. Additionally, importing drugs, pornography, alcohol and religious material into Qatar is completely illegal, but the latter two, alcohol and religious material, can be found within the country are are legal for use in the right circumstances.
Consuming alcohol in public is frowned upon by Qatari nationals and it is actually illegal to drink or be drunk in public, although there is a powerful nightlife presence in Doha which features many bars, pubs and clubs. Expatriates can also obtain alcohol on a permit system but are expected to avoid carrying it around when necessary and should only be carrying it when transporting it between the warehouse and place of residence.
Religious material may be found at one of the few structures of other religions across the region, however these structures are typically only Christian Churches and they are prohibited from exhibiting a difference in the building type (for instance, they aren’t allowed to have a steeple or crosses in the building).
Most DVDs and Videos entering the country, including in expatriate luggage, are examined and may be censored if deemed inappropriate. Finding drugs can result in prison sentences for those involved.
Finally, due to the underlying threat of terrorist attacks, residents are advised to avoid large gatherings and demonstrations and be extra-cautious and wary in public places as the Gulf region has been subject to threats in recent decades. Although the chances of these actually happening are statistically very unlikely and extremely rare, it’s still better to be safe than sorry.
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