The Question of Qatar

Issue 1709

14 October 2017

In June 2017 a number of Gulf States led by Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations with neighboring Qatar, objecting to its moderate Islam and tolerance of other religions. In late August Qatar announced it would restore full diplomatic recognition of Shia-majority Iran.

For decades Qatar has been lauded for its long-standing policy of promoting its own tolerant brand of Islam even as it pursues its own state interests outside the grasp of Saudi suzerainty, the regional power on the Western side of the Persian Gulf and a country that practices Wahhabism, a conservative brand of Sunni Islam.

Although described as the “other Wahhabi state,” Qatar follows a more open interpretation of Wahhabi doctrine than Saudi Arabia, mostly by allowing gated communities like the “Church City” where priests count their congregants by the thousands, most of them immigrants. There are also buildings for worshipers of various Christian denominations and others. Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church in Doha, Qatar’s capital city, for example, serves Christians of 16 ethnic and language groups.

In the same vein, Shia who constitute 10 percent of the Qatari population, are granted religious freedom, and some have even held government positions. These policies contrast with those of neighboring Bahrain, a Saudi client-state ruled by a Sunni minority, where Shia are distinguished from Sunni through a mandatory dress code and are unequally treated.

Since 9/11 Western elites have been longing for “moderate” Muslim leaders. Qatar, though an absolute monarchy, has fostered the sort of openness that Westerners hold dear, and it is now under siege by Saudi Arabia, the major Muslim ally of the United States.

The co-author, Drew Christiansen, SJ teaches Global Ethics and Global Development at Georgetown University (Washington, DC, USA), and the co-author Jocelyne Cesari teaches Religion and Politics at Birmingham University (UK).

This article is available in the October edition of La Civiltà Cattolica English edition. 

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