World Cup 2022: How are strict religious laws and customs affecting life in Qatar?
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- Religious Affairs Editor, BBC News
The focus is on human rights in Qatar as it prepares to host the World Cup, which begins on Sunday. Two people tell us how the country’s strict religious laws and customs have affected their lives.
Aziz moves nervously while talking to him online. He wanted to speak frankly, but it obviously took a lot of courage. Aziz maintained his composure and sobriety throughout our conversation.
“I don’t want to be illegal in my country,” he said quietly from Doha, the capital of Qatar. “I want to see reforms that say I can be gay and not have to worry about being killed.”
Aziz says his daily anxiety stems from the need to constantly monitor what he says, as speaking an inappropriate word to an inappropriate person could lead to his arrest or attack for being gay.
“The difference between being in Qatar and being abroad is that the law abroad is on your side,” he says.
He adds: “If someone attacks you, you go to the police station and get protection.
Human Rights Watch said in its report last month that security forces arbitrarily detained homosexuals in Qatar and subjected them to verbal and physical harassment.
Of course, the fact that the World Cup is being held in Qatar means that the rights of LGBT people in the Gulf state have come under scrutiny in the Western media.
Although it puts these problems in a bigger light, Aziz says it makes people more vulnerable.
“I see a lot of people here now who are anti-gay online and saying we’re disgusting and anti-religion,” he says.
Aziz thinks the discussion was badly framed in the outside world as well.
“They ask, ‘Is it safe to come to Qatar and be ourselves without being imprisoned or subject to Qatari law?’ But they don’t really think about people like us and how dangerous these laws are for us,” he says.
Qatari authorities are keen to stress that they will welcome all football fans during the tournament, but they also stress that visitors should respect the country’s culture.
Aziz fears that the success of the World Cup and Qatar’s portrayal as a hedonistic country will make Qatar less likely to change. He fears a backlash in the coming months.
In the UK we meet Zainab, which is not her real name. Although she lives here in the UK, she fears the disclosure of her identity will impact her family in Qatar.
She says what she described as religious conservatism in Qatari law affected her mental health so badly that she considered suicide.
She says the so-called male guardianship system over women in Qatar “means being a minor all your life”.
“For every important life decision, a woman needs the express written permission of the male guardian, usually her father. And if your father is no longer alive, then there is your uncle, brother or grandfather.”
“If you don’t get that permission, you can’t make that decision, whether it’s going to university, to study abroad, to travel, to get married or to get divorced.”
Zainab says her father is a conservative person, which means she won’t be able to live the life she wants. Zainab did not want to document her experience in detail as it could lead to her identity being revealed, which would cause difficulties for her family.
She noted that some Qatari women, whose liberal families didn’t stand in their way, would deny that this system was harmful.
This system means women can suffer at the hands of dominant family members, Zainab said, noting that Qatar’s strict laws keep conservative tribes happy.
She added: “They believe that the idea of women’s rights is somehow a Western idea and that it contradicts Islamic values, their culture and their traditions.”
Official organizers of the World Cup in Qatar said the criticism of their country was not based on accurate information.
Mozelle, a student at Education City in Doha, agrees: “We don’t need Western organizations to come here and tell us what to do and what not to do,” she says.
“It is our country and we must be given the opportunity to develop as we see fit, not as we are told,” she adds.
However, Qatari citizens’ criticism of their own society is tightly controlled. And as we have seen, those who speak up often fear repercussions.
Those we spoke to don’t complain about the minor cultural differences that are discussed, such as the ability to drink alcohol or kiss in public, but they do talk about issues they believe are basic human rights .
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