Fatima Garcia wore a headscarf and black abaya to study about Islam in Doha. The Salvadoran visitor took a day off from soccer to visit the Katara mosque, where preachers introduced Islam in different languages to curious fans. During the World Cup, hundreds of thousands of people visited Qatar. Qatar introduces Islam to the World Cup visitors. Many are visiting their first Muslim country. Those who don’t leave the stadiums and Doha’s luxury hotels will only hear the call to prayer or see Muslims prostrate in stadiums, airports, and hotels.
Qatari authorities and religious leaders are happy to answer questions about Islam. The Islamic Cultural Center in Doha offers a virtual reality tour of Mecca. Free Qurans are distributed at tourist locations and in hotel lobbies. In Doha, billboards showing U.S. Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammed and other Muslims encourage visitors to explore Islam. Qatari organizers hope the competition helps tourists understand their culture and the region.
Qatar practices ultraconservative Sunni Wahhabism. Unlike Saudi Arabia, where Wahhabism led to strict segregation of unmarried men and women, banned women from driving, and kept concerts, cinemas, and 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.
Qatar introduces Islam to the World Cup visitors
The World Cup host has faced criticism over human rights issues, notably the treatment of migrant workers, and “sportswashing,” or using the event’s prominence to reshape its image. Qatari authorities say the country’s success is being disregarded. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the ruling emir, called some criticism of Qatar “fabrications and double standards.”
The host country’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy and Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs did not comment. Riffat Ishfaq, a Pakistani guide, told Garcia that the beautiful Ottoman-style Katara mosque was created by Zeynep Fadillioglu, whose first name is the Turkish equivalent of the Prophet Muhammed’s eldest daughter’s name. Ishfaq noted the handmade tiles, leather-covered columns, and gold-covered dome were all unique. Garcia studied why Muslim women dress modestly and the religion’s beginnings.
Sergio Morales, a Guatemalan who came for the whole tournament, ended a tour and asked for a complimentary Quran at the mosque’s entrance desk. In Souq Waqif, the capital’s oldest bazaar, there are booths with free Qurans and books teaching the religion in many languages. Just meters away, World Cup fans visited the Abdullah Bin Zaid Al-Mahmoud Islamic Cultural Center for a tour and Friday prayer. Carlos Bustos, Mireya Arias, and their 8- and 13-year-old kids visited the cultural center. The Colombian family read about Islamic contributions to medicine, science, math, and architecture. Mireya Arias respected Muslims’ religion and call to prayer. She praised Qatar for introducing travelers to Islam.
Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art shows religious ceremonies and beliefs. Visitors can read about the five pillars of Islam (faith, prayer, almsgiving, fasting, and hajj) or hajj ceremonies and Islamic funerary practices.
“Qatar is my first exposure to Islam,” Garcia said inside the house of prayer, also known as the blue mosque for its beautiful turquoise tiles. “Qatar has been a life-changing adventure because it gives you a perspective on different cultures.”
“We want to tell people about Islam. We feel pride in our identity,” Ishfaq said, before telling Garcia to keep the abaya as a parting gift. “This helps to dispel misconceptions.”
“Today I became interested because the guided tour was in Spanish and I could understand it all,” he said. “There should be guides in Spanish in every mosque because there are so many Latin American people coming to these countries.”
“They’ve told us that we’re very different but we see more similarities than differences,” he said.