The state religion in Qatar is Islam. Qatar is deeply involved in Muslim culture, which is heavily based on Bedouin traditions in the Arabian Gulf. At the end of the 19th century, well before the founding of Qatar, its inhabitants followed an interpretation of Islam, as the preacher, religious theorist and missionary Muhammad Ibn Abdel Wahab at that time represented in the Arab world. Of course, Al-Wahhab’s most successful and most consequential campaign was with the Al-Saud family for his interpretation of religion. The Al-Saud later became state founders of today’s Saudi Arabia and adapted Wahhabism as the state religion.
By contrast, the Al-Khalifa family ruling in neighboring Bahrain rejected this religious orientation of Islam. When the Al-Khalifas attempted to conquer the Qatari peninsula in 1867, the inhabitants of today’s Qatar, led by the Al-Thani family, successfully defended themselves with the support of the British. Since then, the Al-Thani have been the tribe that provides the rulers of Qatar. That’s why Qatar is still the only country besides Saudi Arabia that has the so-called Hanbalite Wahhabism as official state religion.
The majority of Qatari citizens follow this purist-traditional law school of Sunni Islam. Only about 5% of the population is Shiite. Religious life is based on the five pillars of Islam: the confession of only one God and his Messenger, the Prophet Muhammad, the five-day prayers a day, the payment of the alms tax, the one-month fasting (Ramadan) and the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.
Nonetheless, the practice of religion and, above all, the practical life of the Qataris are very different from those in neighboring Saudi Arabia. Qatar is far more liberal. Especially after the arrival of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani as Emir in 1995, the leading family of Qatar clearly tries to adapt the coexistence of the people in Qatar to the rules of modernity in a globalized world.
Although Article 1 of the 2004 Constitution of Qatar rejects Islamic law – the Sharia – as the “main source of law”. This is to be understood that the culture of civilization shaped by Islam defines the basic understanding of living together between people. The Sharia is probably the most visible in the field of civil status rights. In the commercial law practice, however, the Sharia hardly affects, because all major areas of law are now normalized by law. Unlike Saudi Arabia, Qatar also has a Civil Code. The question of the Sharia arises only to the extent that the legislature has not expressly regulated something or there are gaps or interpretation difficulties. A classic example is inheritance and family law, which has not (yet) been codified in Qatar in harmony with many other Islamic states.
In everyday life, women have far more rights, in many respects they are virtually equal to men, and they perform outstanding functions in business, politics, culture and society. Some of the most important women entrepreneurs are women. Qatar has among others also women’s football teams. In Qatar, for example, unlike in Saudi Arabia, non-Muslims are allowed to drink alcohol.
However, with all the modernity that Qatar radiates, one must not forget that the foundations of Qatari society are religion and the Muslim codified understanding of family. Of course, the inhabitants of Qatar do not all think and feel unified. Like us, Qatar’s grandparents and parents do not always agree with the enlightened lifestyle of the younger generation. Also, a traditional understanding of religion is unbroken in many families. Thus, the currently ruling Emir Tamim shows himself more traditional than his father.
Qatar had about 2.7 million people by the end of 2017, but only about 300,000 have Qatari citizenship. The majority of Qatar’s population is called expatriates. Most of the foreign residents come from South Asia, Southeast Asia and Arab Middle Eastern countries. A small part is from Europe and North America. The Christian communities published numbers of their members: Roman Catholic 200,000, Anglican 20,000 and Egyptian Coptic 3,000. The number of Hindus in Qatar is estimated at 450,000 followers, Buddhists at 100,000 followers. Qatar has to live with the not so simple fact that in Qatar far more non-Muslims live as natives.
Religious groups wishing to be recognized must register with the Foreign Office of Qatar. Officially recognized are the Catholic, Anglican, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic and Indo-Christian churches. To be recognized, the membership of the religious community must be at least 1,500 members in the country. The government has provided the so-called “Religious Complex” on the southern edge of Doha (Mesaymir district) to the recognized six churches. Externally, however, the church buildings cannot show Christian signs, such as crosses.
However, religious communities, such as evangelical Christians, who do not reach the prescribed number, are tolerated by the Qatari Ministry of the Interior and provided with security personnel. Other groups, such as the Hindu, Buddhist and Bahai religious communities, are not recognized by law, but followers are allowed to practice their religion privately as well as others. Missionary work is generally prohibited in Qatar.
To promote interreligious dialogue, the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue was founded. Ibrahim Saleh al-Naimi, Director of DICID said: “Sharia is the foundation of our legal system; but given the massive immigration that makes up 90% of the population; our center organizes a round table to bring together all the representatives of the religions recognized in the country.”
 Generally, Islam divides into Sunnis and Shiites. This subdivision goes back to the question of who would guide the whole of Muslims after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The Shiites believe that only the physical descendants of the Prophet Muhammad are legitimate successors and thus head of religion. For the Sunnis, it is sufficient if the successor from the tribe of the Prophet Muhammad (tribe of the Quraysh) descended.