Living in Qatar: Myths and Realities
You've heard the rumours about Qatar - now read this article to see just how true they are...
Alcohol is legal. You can buy it in a hotel bar, or from an alcohol shop if when you have obtained your liquor permit. Muslims (not Qataris) are also allowed to purchase alcohol. However, it is illegal to be drunk in a public place.
See Buying Alcohol in Qatar for details.
Bars and Clubs
There are bars and clubs here. They're not as good as you might hope for in a major city, but you get a drink and have a dance. Men might be distressed at the male:female ratio, though!
Check out Qatar Bars for more information.
If you see yourself dressed in mysterious black, face covered, as you glide across the floor, that's fine. However, Qatar is a tolerant country, and you can wear pretty much what you want. (See Qatar Clothing for more information about Qatar National Dress.)
There are limits of course. Bathers who were completely uncovered would be arrested pretty quickly. Covering arms and legs would probably be appropriate in the work place, but otherwise unnecessary. Bikinis and skimpy bathing costumes are fine in the right place i.e. in a hotel swimming pool. You do not need to cover your head if you do not want to, and nor do many (non-Qatari) Muslims.
Many travel guides advise long sleeves, and some still state that shorts are forbidden (this was changed years ago, and, frankly, trousers are just too hot half of the year). In reality you see many people wearing summery clothes with skin showing, and I have yet to hear of anyone getting into trouble for it. (HSBC's female investment advisors wear skin tight jeans, presumably to soften us before their pitch. (It works!))
Freedom of Speech
There is political freedom, although respect towards the Emir should be maintained. You should also respect Islam. This does not mean that you cannot discuss religion. Islam itself encourages this. However, a basic respect should be maintained, especially towards the prophet Mohammed. Freedom of worship is practised, and many Christians attend a church service on Sundays. There aren't churches on every street corner, of course. However, a church is being built on land donated by the Qatari government a gesture you really appreciate when you live next to a country like Saudi Arabia.
Holding hands was not acceptable until a few years ago, but the tide definitely seems to have turned. Kissing in public, on the other hand, is out of the question unless it is same sex. That is fine (for them. I hate it when an Arab friend grabs me and gives me a big bearded kiss on each cheek!)
According to the laws of Islam, a Muslim man may marry a Christian woman. However, a Muslim woman may not marry a Christian man unless he converts. In practice, while there are Qatari men who have Western wives, it is very difficult and unusual for a foreigner to marry a Qatari woman, whether Muslim or Christian.
Islamic law is followed for Muslims. Hence, a Muslim drink driving will receive a lashing, a Christian might get a fine. Execution has not been carried out for a number of years, with death sentences being commuted by the Emir. Indeed, one foreign Prime Minister urged the Emir to ban the death penalty, the Emir replied that there was already a de-fact ban on the death penalty in place.
Sex outside marriage is illegal and can be punished. In reality though, a blind eye is turned towards relationships that are pursued with discretion and in privacy. On the other hand, those caught in flagrant violation will end up both in court and the local newspaper.
Here's news for you that dodgy looking Thai Massage Parlour is in fact not dodgy at all. The massage and beauty parlours outside the hotels are for women only.
Not everyone is earning a fortune in Qatar. There are plenty of people living in labour camps on 600 Riyals (around $175) a month (when they get paid). Wages among expats vary enormously. Accommodation costs can dig into the best wage. See Finding Work in Qatar for more information.
Polygamy is legal, and theoretically sanctioned by Islam. That is, the Quran states that it is acceptable to have more than one wife so long as the husband can treat those wives equally. It goes on to say that it is virtually impossible to treat wives equally. In reality, polygamy is not that common in Qatar, although it certainly exists. A wife may also divorce her husband if he decides to take another wife.
"Johnny's grandparents are very worried about him ... they think he might get involved with terrorism". This was an email I received about a journalist friend coming to Qatar to cover the Asian games.
While you can never rule out terrorism, the fact of the matter is you are far more likely to die in a car accident than in any other way. There has been one terrorist incident here, committed by a lone man who was probably mentally ill. The crime rate is exceedingly low in Qatar, and personally I would feel quite happy walking through a dark alley at three o'clock in the morning.
Sensitivity is needed when men are talking with men about women. While general remarks and jokes about women seem to be acceptable with the vast majority of people, asking or talking about specific (female) members of the family is not. I have been gently chided several times for asking a wife's name. It is instead customary to ask the general Keif a leila? or How's your family?
It is acceptable for men to talk to Qatari women in the correct situation i.e. at work. Men are unlikely to meet a Qatari woman in a social situation. See Women in Qatar for more information.