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Mixed Islamic messages at Qatar’s World Cup

The Gulf emirate invites both a radical Islamic preacher and provocative dancers?

People dance during an official U.S. Soccer fan party at the Budweiser World Club ahead of a FIFA World Cup soccer match between Wales and the United States in in Doha, Qatar, on Nov. 20. Associated Press/Photo by Ashley Landis

Mixed Islamic messages at Qatar’s World Cup
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For years, Qatar fought tooth and nail to host the 2022 soccer World Cup. When the Gulf emirate was nominated 12 years ago, many—including the U.S. Department of Justice—accused Qatar of bribing FIFA officials in order to secure sufficient votes to win the nomination. Denying all accusations, Qatar was chosen as host and proceeded with launching the world’s most prestigious soccer event. With at least $20 billion expected in economic boost, Qatar is projected to receive over a million visitors to the smallest country to ever host the World Cup competition.

But there is a problem: Qatar claims to be a Muslim country that strictly adheres to conservative Islamic laws, both in belief and practice. In her hosting of the World Cup, Qatar displays an unprecedented case of Islamic Schizophrenia, as she clearly struggles between presenting herself to the world as a haven for Islamic values and pleasing billions of soccer fans, whether visitors or worldwide broadcast viewers.

Here is one example of Qatar’s apparent Islamic Schizophrenia.

On the one hand, Qatar invited the Indian radical Islamic preacher Zakir Naik to present Islam to non-Muslim soccer fans. With millions of followers worldwide, Naik is not only renowned as a promoter of Islam in large conferences, but he is also known for his polemic rhetoric against non-Muslims—particularly Christians and Jews—and for his support for radical Islamic groups. Naik fled India in 2016 after facing charges of money laundering and hate speech.

However, Qatar’s attempt to virtue signal its commitment to Islam led to the extending of an invitation for Naik to conduct Islamic lectures throughout the tournament. Despite Naik’s questionable character and rhetoric, Qatar wants to present itself as a promoter of Islam by fulfilling the religious duty of Islamic da’wa, meaning the preaching of Islamic messages and calling people to the faith of Islam.

On the other hand, Qatar has invited very different guests—significantly distinct from Naik. Qatari officials have invited American rapper Nicki Minaj and Lebanese dancer and singer Myriam Fares to participate in the events. Both performed their dancing and sensual animation in creating the much-discussed video version of the World Cup anthem. The resulting video is sexually provocative, to say the least, and both female dancers—alongside many other performers—join Colombian male singer Juan Arias, in rhythmic salsa dancing.

But does Islam really permit scantily dressed women to appear singing in videos? Does Islam actually support men and women joining together in dancing performances like this? The answer is clearly negative.

The World Cup games in Qatar are all about a grab for power and influence in the Middle East.

In fact, singing and dancing, according to the Quran and Muhammad’s traditions, are haram (legally and religiously forbidden). Ironically, Qatar is the home of an official Islamic opinion website, named IslamWeb, that includes a formal Islamic fatwa (religious decree) on singing according to Islam: “If the singing contains any musical instrument, then it is forbidden for both men and women.” The fatwa continues by insisting that the singing of women for men “is absolutely forbidden.”

Here we can see a clear case of Islamic Schizophrenia, as Qatar plays both sides. Not only does Qatar invite a famous Islamic preacher to call people to embrace Islam, but the regime also violates Islamic commitments by allowing what its teachings openly forbid.

The same schizophrenia is evident in Qatar’s struggle with unfolding controversy over the consumption of alcoholic beverages in stadiums and the intention of some teams to affirm homosexual activities during the World Cup. According to Islamic law, it is absolutely religiously forbidden “to sell, buy or drink intoxicating beer,” but Qatar will allow some beer sales, though the extent of availability of alcoholic beverages is still unclear.

As for homosexual activities, Islamic laws are clear: homosexuality is not only prohibited but actually punishable by death. In fact, Human Rights Watch reports that Qatari security police have often arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted homosexuals. However, as the tournament begins, we find Qatari officials declare assuring messages to guarantee the protection of homosexual fans.

The case of Qatar’s mixed messaging is absolutely stunning.

Does Qatar really care chiefly about promoting and adhering to Islam? Many truly doubt it.

The World Cup games in Qatar are all about a grab for power and influence in the Middle East. Qatar wants economic advancement and political status, especially after many neighboring Arab nations—including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Egypt—decidedly marginalized, opposed, and despised her for years. This was partly due to Qatar’s open embrace of radical Muslim figures, particularly of Muslim Brotherhood leaders.

Now, the logic goes, Qatar can claim victory on the global stage by hosting the most expensive World Cup event in history. However, the same logic requires the nation to signal her Islamic identity and commitment and to appease multitudes of Muslims who pine for the advancement of Islam.

Thus, we end up with a clear case of Islamic Schizophrenia, where a radical Islamic preacher joins an event with American and Lebanese dancers—all coming together to serve Qatar’s ambitions and global interests.

A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim, born and raised in Egypt, holds two PhDs with an emphasis on Islam and its history. He is a professor of Islamic studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught at several schools in the United States and the Middle East, and authored A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad (Baker Academic, 2022), Conversion to Islam (Oxford University Press, 2021), Basics of Arabic (Zondervan 2021), A Concise Guide to the Quran (Baker Academic, 2020), and The Stated Motivations for the Early Islamic Expansion (Peter Lang, 2018), among others.

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