The Middle East’s first World Cup hosts Qatar is proudly Muslim, and it is capitalizing on the global event to reach out to the hundreds of thousands of visiting fans to change the way they look at Islam.
The Gulf emirate is the first Muslim nation to stage a football World Cup and its natural resources have endowed it with an array of grand mosques to pique the curiosity of visitors.
Canadian couple Dorinel and Clara Popa listened to the call to prayer at an Ottoman-style Mosque in Doha’s Katara cultural district.
It is known as Doha’s Blue Mosque because of the sumptuous mosaics of blue and purple tiles on the walls. A guide took the couple on a tour of the elaborate interior dominated by a giant chandelier.
Dorinel Popa, a 54-year-old accountant, said the couple was taking a first look at Islam Canadian couple Dorinel and Clara Popa pose for a picture inside Doha’s Blue Mosque, Doha, Qatar, Nov. 29, 2022. (AFP Photo)
“We have a prejudice against the culture and the people,” because of a lack of exposure to others, he said.
The first Muslim nation to stage a football World Cup sees the global as an opportunity to introduce millions of people to Islam and change misconceptions about the religion
Coffee and faith
“We have some thoughts in our heads and now maybe some of them will change,” added his wife, a 52-year-old doctor.
The Qatar Guest Center, which supervises the Blue Mosque, has brought dozens of Muslim preachers from around the world to Qatar for the tournament.
Outside the mosque, there are booklets in different languages explaining Islam and the Prophet Mohammed, along with Arabic coffee and dates.
Syrian volunteer Ziad Fateh said the World Cup is “an opportunity to introduce millions of people to Islam” and change misconceptions about the religion.
“We explain to people more about ethics, the importance of family bonding, and respect for neighbors and non-Muslims,” he added.
Near the mosque, volunteers managed a table aimed at visiting women with a sign saying: “Ask me about Qatar.”
Young football fans watch a five-minute virtual reality tour of Islam, near Doha’s Blue Mosque, Doha, Qatar, Nov. 29, 2022. (AFP Photo)
Those who stop are also offered Arabic coffee.
A Palestinian volunteer, Somaya, said most of the questions concerned “the veil, polygamy, and whether women are oppressed in Islam.”
Qatar’s record on women’s and gender minority rights has been heavily scrutinized in connection with the World Cup.
Nearby, visitors can watch a five-minute virtual reality tour of Islam.
The campaign is being pursued across Qatar.
The sun sets behind a mosque in Doha, Qatar, Nov. 8, 2022. (AFP Photo)
Happiness in Islam
In the Pearl district, where many expatriates live and frequent its expensive cafes and restaurants, murals have been painted with quotes from the Prophet Mohammed urging good morality.
Upscale shopping malls carry advertisements promoting Islam.
In the Souq Waqif market, where thousands of fans gather every day, free books and pamphlets are left in one alley with a sign saying: “If you’re looking for happiness … you will find (it) in Islam.”
Near the Souq, the Sheikh Abdulla bin Zaid Islamic Cultural Center is open 12 hours a day for tours.
Some Muslim leaders in Qatar have called for efforts to encourage visiting football fans to take up Islam.
Sultan bin Ibrahim Al Hashemi, a professor of sharia law at Qatar University who heads the Voice of Islam radio station, said the World Cup should be used to inspire people, as well as counter Islamophobia.
Hashemi told AFP that in his meetings with foreign fans: “I will offer them to take up Islam.
“If I find the opportunity, I will offer them, Islam, with ease and grace, and if I do not find the opportunity, I will tell them that you are our guests and our brothers in humanity.”
He also stressed that Islam does not accept conversion through coercion.
An official at Qatar’s ministry of religious endowments told AFP that the state’s goal was not “the number of converts to Islam, but rather the number of those who change their opinion about it.”