Religion in Qatari Life

Quran, prayer rug, and direction of Mecca in a drawer in the hotel room.

Quran, prayer rug, and direction of Mecca in a drawer in the hotel room.

As I lay awake with jet lag on the first night of my trip, I heard the strange singing for the first time. Aside from being surprised that anyone else was awake just before 5 a.m., I was also confused at the source of the eerie chant-like sounds that were floating up to my ninth-floor room. It wasn’t for until three days later that I was finally informed that what I’d been hearing was a call to prayer or ‘adhan'  And while the adhan serves as a call to prayer (or alarm clock!) for many Muslims, it served as a starting point for me to think about religion in society and how very different it is here in Qatar from the United States.

I’m the kind of person who gets crabby when I have to wake up anytime before 8 a.m., so naturally I wondered how and if most Qataris wake up for their first prayer, which falls anytime between 4:30 and 5:00 a.m. depending on location and sun position. According to one female at Qatar University, getting up for prayer is not a big deal because it only takes two minutes and afterwards she can fall back asleep almost instantly. In fact, most of the women I met with at QU didn’t seem to mind the early call to prayer, saying that men have it much worse because they have to be present at the mosque, where women can simply pray from home.

But prayer or ‘salat’ is not limited to 5 a.m. The adhan rings out to alert Muslims to prayer five times throughout the day and can be heard in a variety of locations including shopping malls. In fact, some businesses even shut down from 1 to 4 p.m. to accommodate the two prayers during that time. Combined with the fact that Islamic is Qatar’s national religion, it is obvious that there is much less separation between church and state than there is in America.

A view of the spiral mosque at Kassem Darwish Fakhroo Islamic Centre a few blocks from my hotel.

A view of the spiral mosque at Kassem Darwish Fakhroo Islamic Centre a few blocks from my hotel.

My greatest curiosity here is the religion and I’ve been fortunate to have a professor, group guide, and friend of the group who are Muslim and willing to answer my many questions such as: 

What if a prayer time is missed? What if you’re driving or in class? 

According to my sources, there are many logical reasons a prayer time may be missed, driving and class included. For this reason, prayer can be made up.

Why do men and women usually pray separately?

This is because it is less distracting and allows both parties to focus more on their prayer.

What goes on in a mosque?

There are actually many steps, not to mention a lot of movement. This resource was helpful to me in understanding a typical prayer session.

Do all the weekly prayer times make up for an actual service or is there one of those too? 

Friday, the first day of the weekend in Qatar, is a time for the Mosque. The prayer session, called Jumu'ah, lasts about 25 minutes.

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There was a small Muslim population at my high school whose antics sometimes came off strangely to me. I remember thinking it was weird and unfair that they had a separate room for prayer, but I didn’t even take the time to understand their religion. I also remember how an entire girl’s bathroom was closed because a Somali student broke a sink off a wall trying to wash her feet before prayer; I can’t say having a bathroom closed for several weeks was appreciated, but now I at least understand what she was trying to do.

And while I can not imagine having to pray five times a day, ever getting used to the adhan, or constantly having to figure out where I am in relation to Mecca, I am very glad this trip has opened my eyes to a religion that just a few weeks ago seemed so foreign to me. As I am learning over and over again on this trip, just because something is not fully understood doesn't mean it should be seen as bad or frightening—simply different.

Gina Van ThommeComment