“It’s nice to practise your own religion in a foreign land,” says one of the expatriates, and this church seems to be made up entirely of expatriates. “By giving licences to build churches, they are showing tolerance and respect for other religions,” asserts Ibrahim Oweiss, but how about a thought experiment — what would happen if a Qatari national converted from Islam and tried to join this church?
The answer seems clear, since in accord with traditional laws governing the conduct of non-Muslims in Muslim societies — the dhimmi laws — the church “does not have a cross on display outside.” And oh, by the way, “there are police stationed in vehicles nearby to ensure the safety of worshippers.”
“Qatari church doubles congregation,” by Daniel Bardsley for The National, April 13 (thanks to James):
DOHA // In the paved open area surrounding Our Lady of the Rosary, Qatar’s first Catholic church, Arabic, English and Tagalog are all regularly spoken.
Arabs, Filipinos, Indians and Europeans converge on the church, one of several in a growing compound on the outskirts of Qatar’s capital city. Since it opened a year ago, the church, with its striking stained-glass windows and seating capacity of about 2,500, has seen congregations double in size.
“It’s nice to practise your own religion in a foreign land,” said Michael Ajero, a 34-year-old Filipino bank employee who attends the church.
“It’s a matter of pride and it means we can share with our Islamic brothers the practices and what we do as Catholics.”
Father Tomasito Veneracion, the priest of the parish of Our Lady of the Rosary, said there had been objections to the opening of the church and the development of the larger Christian compound. “It was not people coming here, but more intellectual arguments in the Arabic newspapers,” he said.
In recognition of potential concerns, the church does not have a cross on display outside and there are police stationed in vehicles nearby to ensure the safety of worshippers.
“They”re a young nation with a very rich and strong history of Islam and in the past years they”ve been trying to find their identity,” Father Veneracion said.
“At the same time, they”re opening up to the world and making Qatar known the world over, which they”ve achieved in a short time, and part of that is creating goodwill.”
As many as 3,500 people now attend services on Friday mornings, close to double the number when the church opened. Father Veneracion estimates 10,000 people pass through the compound on Fridays.
Among them is Aida Abu Jaber from Jordan, who has lived in Qatar for 15 years and has four children.
“I used to take them — they used to give us maps and we used to go together and pray in houses,” she said. “It was so difficult for us, particularly at the beginning as we didn’t know the country.”
The opening of Qatar’s first Catholic church came four years after the country unveiled its inaugural constitution, which prohibits religious discrimination.
As in the UAE, land was provided by the government, while the churches themselves covered the construction costs.
Prior to the opening of the churches, worshippers would congregate in private homes or in villas or halls converted into churches.
Members of branches of Christianity other than Catholicism have also found places to worship, with Abdullah bin Hamad, Qatar’s deputy prime minister, having last month opened an interdenominational church nearby. But there are Christians whose churches are not represented in the compound, and they still have to use makeshift places of worship.
“We have a rented villa space we use as a church — nobody lives there, it’s just for us,” said Brian Gallew, a counsellor and member of the elders quorum at the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints.
Typically, between 150 and 170 people, a mix of Filipinos, Americans, Britons, Indians, Australians and Nepalese, among others, attend each service.
Yet even members of such churches that have yet to be given land are pleased to see what is happening in Qatar. Mr Gallew, an American who has been in the country for about three years, said he was “kind of excited”.
“When I first came here you had to look long and hard to find a church,” he said. “It was not uncommon to have people who had been here two or three years and had not found one.”
Ibrahim Oweiss, a professor at Georgetown University”s School of Foreign Service in Qatar, said the opening of the churches was part of an “enlightened” series of reforms in the country, which has traditionally been more conservative than some other Gulf states.
“They are taking unconventional steps in changing this society by also introducing western universities,” he said. “By giving licences to build churches, they are showing tolerance and respect for other religions.”…