The following articles are provided byQatar Tourism Authority

Where yesterday meets tomorrow

Qatar’s blend of forward-looking dynamism and ancient heritage makes it a unique travel experience

Mohammed Bin Abdulwahab Mosque, Doha
Mohammed Bin Abdulwahab Mosque, Doha

Setting foot in Qatar for the first time, you can’t fail to be struck by the futuristic skyscrapers of Doha’s business district. They send out a clear message that this is a dynamic, modern country.



But that is only part of a much bigger picture. The distinctive national dress worn by Qatari men and women provides the first visible clue of something more beneath the surface – that there are hidden depths to be discovered. It soon becomes clear that this is a society with deep cultural roots and a devotion to its heritage that reaches to the heart of the nation’s life and development even today.



Respect for the past shows itself in multiple ways, perhaps most strikingly in a living culture where the time-honoured values of hospitality and courtesy are still very much in evidence. There is a lot of truth in the saying that one of Qatar’s special charms is that 19th-century good manners co-exist side by side with a 21st-century lifestyle.



Actually, that’s not so surprising when you think of how the country has developed. As recently as 60 or 70 years ago, life for most Qataris continued much as it had for generations. It was only the discovery of oil and gas that catapulted the country into the modern age.



But while it doesn’t take too long to transform an economy, traditional culture takes time to evolve. Even with satellite TV, global social media and a generation of young Qataris proficient in English and, in many cases, exposed to international lifestyles through education at overseas universities, the country’s prevailing culture holds true to the traditional values of the Bedouin.



Observance of Islam, including praying five times a day, is central to the daily lives of Qataris. The call of the muezzin from the nation’s mosques is one of the most characteristic and evocative sounds of Qatar, and the calendar is marked by important religious milestones such as the holy month of Ramadan and the Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha holidays.



Traditional Qatari society was organised on a tribal basis. Each tribe had its own territory and was headed by a sheikh with the personal stature and charisma to win the hearts, minds and loyalty of his people. Within the tribe, the immediate and extended family was the main building block of society and, even to this day, these tribal and family allegiances continue to be a vital part of Qatari culture.



Another tradition handed down through the generations is the collaborative nature of decision-making. Historically, all important tribal decisions were reached through a process of consultation and everyone – or at least every male – had access to the sheikh and was entitled to make his opinions heard. This pattern of consultation lives on in the Majlis, a meeting place where people gather to discuss the issues of the day.



Even at top government level, laws and decrees proposed by the Council of Ministers, the country’s supreme executive authority, are referred to the Majlis Al Shura (consultative council) for discussion before being ratified by the Emir.



Of course, to operate effectively in an increasingly globalised world, Qatar has had to adapt to international norms. For example, while the traditional lunar calendar is used to determine such important dates as the start of Ramadan or the Eid holidays, businesses uses the solar calendar in their dealings with overseas counterparts. Likewise, Qatar’s legal system has two parallel strands, civil law and traditional sharia law, and this duality is also apparent in the co-existence of Islamic banking and standard international banking.



Besides these institutions, the everyday behaviour of Qataris is very much shaped by long-standing customs and traditions. As a visitor, you will be struck by the way in which most social interaction among Qataris is marked by great courtesy and often a degree of formality. Every individual is entitled to respect.



In nomadic Bedouin society, travelling strangers would always be invited to share food and drink. In the harsh conditions of the desert, this could be a matter of life or death. Today the tradition of hospitality remains one of the defining features of Qatari culture and the sheer extent of the generosity can be quite overwhelming to a visiting westerner.



Qatari names follow a traditional pattern. They are usually expressed in three parts: the person’s own name, followed by his (or her) father’s name prefixed by Bin (or Bint), then the family name. Names can be extended to include grandfather, great-grandfather and so on, but limiting it to three elements is the general practice.



As noted earlier, clothing provides one of the most visible signs of Qataris’ strong attachment to traditional standards. Male Qataris wear the thawb, an ankle-length, loose-fitting garment, usually made of white cotton in summer, other colours in winter. The ghafia, a white skull cap, is worn on the head, covered by the ghutra, a long cloth held in place by the igal, a black braid doubled around the crown of the head. The bisht, a flowing cloak trimmed with gold, is worn on special occasions.



Outside the home, Qatari women wear a long-sleeved, full-length black dress called an abaya covering their clothing. The hair is covered by the shayla. Gishwa face veils are also sometimes worn, as well as the burqa.



In Qatar, most introductions to potential marriage partners continue to follow the age-old pattern of being arranged by the respective families. But some traditions do evolve with the times. These days, young couples are free to decide for themselves.



While Qataris are generally very well informed about life in other countries and keenly follow western sports – football is the national game – many also enthusiastically follow or take part in traditional pastimes and activities.



For example, the purpose-built camel-race track at Al Shahaniya, some 20km west of Doha, attracts large enthusiastic crowds during the winter racing season. While modern technology has increasingly encroached on this ancient sport through the advent of robot jockeys, made of titanium and controlled by radio, the colour, sights and sounds still evoke the authentic atmosphere of this ancient Bedouin pastime.



Similarly, the 5,000-year-old sport of falconry is avidly pursued by many Qataris during the winter hunting season. Much time and care is devoted to training young falcons and creating a close bond between the hunter and his valuable birds.



Qatar has always looked outwards to the sea. For generations, fishing, pearl diving and dhow trading provided a livelihood for much of the population. Traditional wooden dhows, largely unchanged in design over the years, symbolise this noble seafaring heritage and still ply Qatar’s waters today.



Qataris, like other Arabs, are rightly proud of the role the Arabian horse has played in international equestrianism. Indeed, the global horse-racing industry owes its origins in large part to Arabian bloodstock. Today, Al Shaqab stud farm in the outskirts of Doha is devoted to the perpetuation and preservation of purebred Arabians, while Qatar’s equestrian tradition also flourishes at race meetings held at Qatar Racing & Equestrian Club throughout the winter months.



Traditional music and handicrafts are still widely practised. Folk dances, accompanied by traditional bagpipes and drums, can still be seen, especially at weddings, celebrations and special events. Male dancers with swords chant and sway with the music.



Decoration and design have always been important features of traditional Qatari life, finding expression in the work of craftsmen in everything from jewellery and textiles to dhow building and architecture. Henna painting and Arabic calligraphy also demonstrate the strong creativity and visual traditions that continue to this day.



An Arabian horse at Qatar Racing & Equestrian Club
An Arabian horse at Qatar Racing & Equestrian Club
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Falconry in Qatar
Falconry in Qatar
Souq Waqif, Doha
Souq Waqif, Doha
Local arts and crafts
Local arts and crafts
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