While having a crowd of hundreds sitting on a carpet outdoors listening to a preacher give a sermon is an unusual site for football events in the western world, Muslim fans say Qatar’s World Cup has accommodated them like no other tournament, with prayer rooms inside each stadium, concessions selling halal food and no beer-swilling supporters to contend with in the stands following a stadium alcohol ban.
“I came to an Islamic country to attend Friday prayer… This is what makes me happy in this competition,” Yousef al-Idbari, a visiting fan from Morocco, told Reuters.
During a night-time official fan festival event in the city, the speaker announced a pause in festivities to the entire crowd to allow for the Muslim congregants to take a prayer break.
Qatar has also made an effort to feature Islam and Muslim culture throughout the first week of the tournament with sayings and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad posted around Doha and translated into multiple languages including English.
Sunday’s opening ceremony began with a female singer donning a traditional burqa, a face covering banned in several European countries, who also recited a verse from the Quran about God creating humanity into “nations and tribes” so they can get to know one another.
Some hotel rooms in the country are also offering visitors QR codes to learn about Islam, according to social media reports, and tourists visiting Qatar for the tournament were invited to learn about Islamic dress.
“For 450 million Arabs, this is something they thought they would never see in their lifetimes,” Ali al-Ansari, Qatar’s media attache in the United States, said in a written statement to the New York Times.
However, while Muslims attending games in Qatar may be enjoying a better fan experience than they have had before, it is not clear whether this World Cup will change things for them in the long run.
Qatar has faced a barrage of criticism in western media, and from some countries playing in the 32-team tournament, over its rights record on migrant workers, women and the LGBTQ community.
Yet the criticism has been seen by Qataris as hypocritical, given that many of the countries engaging in the criticism continue to rely on the country for its natural gas resources with no outcries, or that the same criticism isn’t applied to Qatar’s neighbour, the United Arab Emirates.
Still, for Muslim fans, the tournament is an enjoyable experience that they are sure to remember for a long time.
Ridwaan Goolam Hoosen, an avid South African soccer fan, told Reuters he frequently has to leave football grounds in order to find a prayer space, including at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
“You go out and you miss a team goal or you miss someone getting sent off,” he said. “It feels as if this World Cup is for me, it works for me, it fits for me… This is the first of its kind like this.”