When people in the West think of Islam or the Middle East, they probably think of deserts, camels and terrorists.
Words like “exotic” or violent” will most likely come to mind.
Qatar had the opportunity to counter this racism and Islamophobia in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
And it did a pretty good job.
As the first Muslim majority and Middle Eastern country to host the World Cup, Qatar showed the Western world that Arab and Islamic culture can contribute to the success of the games and a safer World Cup experience.
Although Qatar is not a perfect role model for the Muslim world and has been highlighted in the media for its treatment of migrant workers and restrictions on the LGBTQ+ community, it has made significant effort to display the realities of Islamic culture to the rest of the world.
Through the nation’s hospitality, Arabic art displays, Islamic prophetic sayings and safety regulations not common in the West, Qatar won the hearts of many foreigners who traveled to the country for the first time.
An Al Jazeera video of Qatari locals opening up their homes to foreigners went viral as the Internet marveled at the Islamic and Arab hospitality.
Local mosques opened their doors to visitors and offered multilingual tours, where they gave out informative brochures and free copies of the Quran, in hopes of educating people about the faith and clearing misconceptions.
Murals of prophetic sayings were displayed around Doha, some of which read “Every good deed is a charity”, “He who is not merciful to others, will not be treated mercifully,” promoting tolerance, mercy and generosity.
Interestingly enough, Western media fails to show this side of Muslims.
From the onset of the games, Qatar ensured Islam was at the forefront. During the opening ceremony of the games, Qatari World Cup ambassador, Ghanim Al-Muftah, recited a verse from the Quran stating “O humanity! Indeed, We created you from a male and a female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you may get to know one another…” (Quran, 49:13).
Beginning the games with this idea of connection served as an invitation to the world to learn about Qatar, its culture, religion and ultimately the Muslim world at large.
The Muslim majority nation also implemented rules such as alcohol bans in stadiums and gender-separated entrance checkpoints. While these cultural differences raised concerns by Western visitors and were protested, they contributed to a safe experience in stadiums, especially for women.
In stories from BBC News, Reuters and the Gulf Times, women attribute the safer soccer environment to the reduced alcohol consumption. With limited drinking in and around the stadiums, there were reduced reported incidents of sexual harassment.
For overly crowded stadiums and concerned women, the alcohol ban may have been the right move.
Qatar, being scrutinized for not being fit to host the games, has used the World Cup as a platform to showcase its rich Islamic culture and heritage, and change minds about the religion.
Understanding different cultures and religions is vital in this globalized world, and Qatar successfully brought the West one step closer to doing just that.