Qatar club illustrates need to balance cosmopolitan goals with traditional values

Qatar club illustrates need to balance cosmopolitan goals with traditional values
A rather unusual Reuters story from Oct. 5 illustrates how residents of the Gulf nation of Qatar may find inherent contradictions in new efforts to position Doha and other regional cities as cultural hubs.

Titled “Qatar Trims Cultural Plans as Traditional and Budget Pressures Weigh,” the piece points to both inherent cultural norms and financial pressure as contributing to the restriction of new kinds of social and “cultural” meeting places within the country.

The word cultural can be used as it is in this piece, to promote things like jazz clubs -- or it can be used in the context of the Muslim world, to show why alcoholic beverages are forbidden to Muslims all over the Middle East and elsewhere.

In the story, Qatari citizen Hanan al-Kaabi complains of being barred from a neighborhood business that apparently sets its sights on non-citizens, visiting expats and other outsiders.

Reuters, in describing efforts to open up local venues to both expats and Qataris, calls the process a “tricky marriage” and illustrates that with the legacy of the $20 million jazz club opened by a Qatari citizen.

In order to try to accommodate both sets of people, the club had events where no alcohol was served, and practicing Muslims were welcome. Other events were largely patronized by expats, as alcohol was served.

This strategy is something allowed under Qatar’s laws. Eventually, this particular club faced budget pressures and had to close -- but the model is possible.

“They have the freedom to do it,” Yasir Mohamed, practicing Muslim and mental health clinician from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, told Gulf News Journal, explaining that although Islamic countries often place restrictions on alcohol, they cannot ban it altogether. “In Islam, morally, consuming alcohol is forbidden.” 

However, he said, no such restriction exists for non-Muslims. That creates two sets of rules inside of Muslim countries. Mohamed said in some Islamic countries, purveyors of alcohol check an identification card to see if someone is a practicing Muslim or not.

Still, he said, alcoholism exists in countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

“People find their way to it,” Mohamed said.

As for the keeping of religious laws in an “era of imbibement,” as the pressure to globalize puts stress on cultural values, Mohamed said, it can be hard to always strike that balance.

“Some Muslim countries try to juggle multiple value systems: Islamic, local-cultural and Western, while not always thinking critically about how to synchronize these values into a coherent system,” he said.
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