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CONFIDENTIAL (97070)
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Reference ID 07DOHA1052 (original text)
SubjectQATAR FORGES ITS OWN "WAHABI" PATH
OriginEmbassy Doha
ClassificationCONFIDENTIAL
ReleasedAug 30, 2011 01:44
CreatedNov 8, 2007 13:51
VZCZCXRO1529
PP RUEHDE RUEHDIR
DE RUEHDO #1052/01 3121351
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 081351Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY DOHA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7224
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DOHA 001052 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/05/2017 
TAGS:          
SUBJECT: QATAR FORGES ITS OWN "WAHABI" PATH 
 
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Michael A. Ratney, 
for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
 1.  (C) Summary:  Qatar's brand of Islam, according to three 
sources, is both traditional and progressive.  It is 
traditional in that it is based on scripture and standing 
interpretations, but progressive in its tolerance for various 
Islamic schools of thought and moderate social strictures. 
Even though Amirs of Qatar have referred to themselves and 
their subjects as "Wahabi," use of this term is increasingly 
pejorative in Qatar today.  While most Qataris, if pressed, 
would identify themselves as Salafis, they generally do not 
label themselves as anything other than Muslims.  The tone 
for the country, and its religion, emanates from the Amir. 
The current Amir several years ago made a point of using the 
Wahabi term as a descriptor in public, but his director of 
communications at the time believes he did so to make clear 
to Saudi Arabia that Qatar alone would dictate the terms of 
its religious practices and the vocabulary used to describe 
them.  In comparison to its Saudi neighbors, Qatar has 
increasingly chosen to define its religious practices in 
progressive and inclusive terms.  End Summary. 
 
QATARIS:  TOLERANT AND MODERATE MUSLIMS 
--------------------------------------- 
 
 2.  (C) Frequent reference is made in the press and on the 
Internet to Qatar's brand of Islam as Wahabi, the prevailing 
current in Saudi Arabia.  Yet Qatari society is starkly 
different from its Saudi neighbor.  Qatari women in large 
numbers cover their faces and hair, but they are not required 
by law to do so.  They are allowed to drive cars.  Alcohol is 
available in hotels and at state liquor outlets, and even 
during Ramadan can be found in hotel minibars.  Restaurants 
and stores remain open during the call to prayer.  Women and 
men work alongside each other in the workplace.  In short, 
Qatar looks anything but Wahabi when compared to Saudi 
Arabia.  What should we make of the differences, and how do 
Qataris see themselves as Muslims? 
 
 3.  (C) Imam Abdulsalem Basyoni of the Al-Fanar Islamic 
Center has lived and worked in Qatar for 19 years.  Egyptian, 
he grew up in a Christian neighborhood of Cairo and works to 
build bridges between different religions and Muslims 
themselves.  Basyoni told P/E Chief October 31 that Qataris 
see themselves first and foremost as Muslims.  In his 
experience, they are also strongly moderate and are tolerant 
of their Muslim brothers and sisters whose Islamic school of 
thought may not be their own.  Basyoni does not believe it is 
accurate to characterize Qataris in general as Wahabi in 
outlook. 
 
 4.  (C) Majid Al-Ansari of the Al-Balagh Society, which 
operates Islam Online and two other Internet sites, 
BiblioIslam and Reading Islam, told P/E Chief October 28 that 
Westerners have a tendency to oversimplify the religious 
outlook of Muslims.  Rather than describe Qataris as Wahabis, 
it is more accurate in his view to refer to the vast majority 
of them as Salafi in outlook.  Members of this school of 
Islamic thought, according to Al-Ansari, are generally 
traditional in thinking and understand Islam directly through 
the reading of scripture.  He observed that although in Saudi 
Arabia imams who are very much a part of the government 
establishment describe themselves as Wahabi, most Qataris 
would describe themselves -- if pushed to categorize their 
brand of Islam -- as Salafi.  Wahabi as a term, he said, is 
increasingly pejorative in Qatar and, thanks to Osama Bin 
Laden, carries today very negative connotations. 
 
"ON THE PATH OF OUR AMIR" 
------------------------- 
 
 5.  (C) Al-Ansari said the more extreme Salafis in Qatar 
(like in Saudi Arabia) advocate a strong governmental role 
for the mosque.  Their numbers, however, are small, and 
Al-Ansari underscored that "often the most extreme voices are 
non-Qatari."  Some Qataris are becoming more "Americanized," 
or liberal in their Islamic views, though most remain 
"traditional but tolerant."  In this sense, he would not 
currently describe the Qatari community as Salafi.  That 
said, non-Qataris have often perceived Qatar as Salafi 
because Amir Abdullah bin Jasim Al Thani (the 
great-grandfather of the current Amir) pronounced himself to 
be one.  The current Amir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, in 
Al-Ansari's view, tries to maintain balance between Qatar's 
traditions and modernity.  In this way, the Amir can ensure 
that Qatar is a friend of the U.S. without provoking the 
populace.  The Amir, he said, is very careful to maintain 
historic architectural styles and traditional activities like 
camel racing even as Western-style advertising, Starbucks, 
and McDonald's have rapidly established themselves over the 
past five years. 
 
 
DOHA 00001052  002 OF 002 
 
 
 6.  (C) The Qatari people are peaceful, observed Al-Ansari, 
who noted that in recent years two Amirs had been overthrown 
without bloodshed, much less vocal resistance.  The current 
heir apparent, Sheikh Tamim, replaced his brother Jasim 
without an "article of explanation in the newspapers."  No 
one raised a fuss.  Salafis continue to have the most 
influence in mosques and religious affairs, but they by no 
means have a monopoly.  Ultimately, he remarked, Qataris are 
traditional and, consistent with the Arab proverb, they "are 
on the path of their king."  The current Amir (king) Hamad 
has tried to be practical in bringing about change, said 
Al-Ansari.  The introduction of alcohol, for example, was 
seen as practical given the increasing presence of foreigners 
in Qatar.  The government gradually and quietly allowed 
alcohol in five-star hotels and over time people grew 
accustomed to it, and its distribution expanded.  Despite the 
large number of automobile accidents that can now be 
attributed to alcohol, according to Al-Ansari, the government 
has not sought to clamp down on its sale and distribution. 
Rather, it has kept quiet about the role that alcohol plays 
in traffic accidents.  He said this conspiracy of silence, 
aimed at promoting tolerance, is the Qatari way. 
 
SAUDI ARABIA WILL NOT DEFINE QATARI TERMS OF REFERENCE 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
 
 7.  (C) Small businessman (and until recently university 
professor of communications) Adel Al-Malki, in an October 29 
conversation with P/E Chief, concurred with Al-Ansari on the 
important role the Amir plays in setting the national tone, 
especially on matters of religion.  Al-Malki, who headed the 
information section in the Amiri Diwan from 1989-1999 under 
both the current Amir and his father, said there is much 
national pride among Qataris in Qatar's progress under the 
current Amir.  Al-Malki echoed Al-Ansari's comment that 
"Wahabi" has a negative connotation for most Muslims these 
days and that the term "Salafi" is better suited to 
describing the religious tendencies of most Qataris. 
According to Al-Malki, it would be even more accurate to 
describe Saudis and Qataris as followers of the Hanbali 
school of Islamic thought.  He opined that the primary 
differences between Qatar and Saudi Arabia with respect to 
the practice of Islam are the different outlooks of the 
populations.  According to Al-Malki, the Saudis are "bedouin 
traditionalists," whereas the Qataris are more modern and 
progressive.  This progressivism, he stated, is reflected in 
Qatar's tolerance and accommodation of different religious 
currents in Islam.  In contrast, the Saudis are beholden to 
upholding the Salafi tradition. 
 
 8.  (C) In Qatar, according to Al-Malki, all schools of 
Islamic thought are represented.  In this respect, he 
observed that Qataris are proud of being different from their 
Saudi neighbors.  Al-Malki explained this difference in 
outlook was from Qatar's location on the Persian Gulf, which 
facilitated commerce and trade with foreigners vis-a-vis the 
land-locked deserts of Saudi Arabia.  He said it is important 
to understand the rivalry on the progressive/traditional 
continuum between Saudi Arabia and Qatar to understand the 
context of the current Amir's statement some years ago (when 
Al-Malki was heading the information section of his office). 
The Amir publicly declared at the time:  "I am Wahabi, and 
Qatar is a Wahabi country."  Al-Malki said it was never clear 
why the Amir made the statement, but Al-Malki interpreted the 
statement as an effort by the Amir to put a modern face on 
the religious currents generally shared at the time between 
Qatar and Saudi Arabia.  When the Amir made his statement, 
the Saudis were pressing Qatar to follow the Saudi lead in 
matters of religion.  The Amir's statement, said Al-Malki, 
was most probably the Amir's way of saying, "Thank you very 
much, but we Qataris will do things our way." 
 
 9.  (C) COMMENT:  We believe there is much truth to 
Al-Malki's assertion that Wahabi references to Qatar need to 
be seen in the context of the Amir's reserving the right to 
carve out a progressive, modernist path for Qatar -- even 
when it veers from religious traditions long shared with 
Qatar's Saudi brethren of the Hanbali school.  Judging by the 
extent to which Qataris seek to distance themselves from 
Saudi Arabia in all spheres, it should come as no surprise 
that even in religion Qataris define themselves by how they 
differ from their Saudi neighbors and yield to no one the 
right to define the terms or vocabulary by which Qataris 
live. 
 
RATNEY
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