The security guard stared at me inquisitively. I was waiting impatiently inside the front door of my workplace, watching for my colleague to arrive. I wasn’t in the mood for small talk. But I also didn’t want to step into the blazing noonday sun of Qatar, at around 115 degrees Fahrenheit. The guard, a tall young man with a broad smile and an African accent, initiated the conversation.
“What’s your name?” he asked. “Where are you from? How long have you been in Qatar?” Turns out, his name was Samuel, and he was from Uganda. He’d been here three years.
Then he asked a question so unexpected that I had to ask him to repeat it. “Do they have churches where you’re from?” “Why, yes,” I answered, “I’m a follower of Jesus. Are you a Christian?” I can’t begin to describe the pure joy that gushed from him in that moment. He tearfully clasped my hand, bent down to hug me, and did a little dance. “I knew there were others here!” he exclaimed.
All Eyes on Qatar
These days, Qatar is in the global spotlight because of the World Cup. But Qatar is possibly the most unlikely place ever to host the event—or any international sporting tournament, for that matter. A tiny desert peninsula with a traditionally nomadic Bedouin population, Qatar lacks any history of sports that don’t involve camels or falcons.
The entire country has fewer people than the Twin Cities of Minnesota. In fact, Qatar had to develop most of the infrastructure necessary for the World Cup entirely from scratch, including eight new stadiums, 16-lane highways, a metro system, even entire cities with soaring skylines where once there was only sand. Back in 2010, when the 2022 FIFA World Cup was awarded, the country didn’t have much in its favor except for a dream and more money than it knew what to do with.
Since then, controversies have loomed like a dust storm over tournament preparations. There were allegations of corruption, warnings of migrant worker abuse, and international criticism of discrimination toward women and the LGBT+ community. Qatar is a conservative, Muslim nation with Victorian stances on alcohol, homosexuality, and public displays of affection. Many soccer fans are simply wondering if they can get a beer at the matches. (As of Friday’s announcement, they can’t.)
The world has its eyes on Qatar. Could it be that God is raising the profile of this small nation for his purposes? Qatar is a place where the gospel has yet to penetrate the indigenous population. Perhaps the World Cup will awaken the church to prayer and action for this nation.
Could it be that God is raising the profile of this small nation for his purposes?
Qatar’s ultramodern architecture and international population make it feel quite cosmopolitan. On an afternoon stroll through one of the ubiquitous malls of the capital city of Doha, one is just as likely to hear French, Turkish, or Mandarin as English or Arabic. Western expats enjoy a very high standard of living in Qatar in exchange for a few minor inconveniences.
It’s often a different story for non-Western foreigners. Stories of long hours, limited time off, dangerously hot work conditions, inability to transfer jobs, and withheld wages are frequent complaints that are rarely spoken aloud. Of course, many of these workers could experience similar or worse conditions in their home countries. But by working in Qatar, they’re able to send money to support family members back home.
Qatari society has made many political and policy reforms over the past decade, particularly regarding the treatment of migrant workers, a fact often missed by Western media. Full implementation isn’t yet consistent, but the conditions in Qatar for migrants are certainly improving. Therefore, it’s not accurate or appropriate for Westerners to speak as if everything is bad in Qatar. As in any country, the situation here is complicated.
Situation for Christians
Since the Qatari people are devoted to Islam, making grand displays of hospitality to foreigners is considered a religious duty as well as a great personal honor. They view the World Cup as their opportunity to host the world. But Qataris are also remarkably private people. They often express genuine confusion, hurt, and anger at the intensity of the criticisms of their attempts to welcome everyone to their homeland.
In Qatar, Western Christians are free to worship much as they would back home, with a few important differences. Worship services are on Fridays since the workweek runs from Sunday to Thursday. Church buildings aren’t marked with a cross, outdoor worship is forbidden, and proselytism is outlawed. But inside, the singing is loud, the children practice memory verses, and the gospel is boldly proclaimed.
There are no publicly known followers of Jesus among the Qatari people.
The situation is different for non-Western Christian expats in Qatar, like my friend Samuel. They frequently face isolation from other believers and discrimination in finding jobs. Muslim-background believers in Christ can experience intense social pressure to return to Islam. There are no publicly known followers of Jesus among the Qatari people, and Open Doors lists Qatar as number 18 on its global watchlist for Christian persecution.
How to Pray
Qatar is a fallen, unredeemed society, with a unique mixture of beauty and injustice, just like anywhere else in the world. What’s needed isn’t further condemnation but rather the redemption of the Qatari people through the gospel of Christ and the regenerating power of the Spirit. This calls for the church to pray, to echo Paul’s concern for his own people (Rom. 10:1–4) despite the injustices he suffered at their hands.
Here are some specific ways to pray for Qatar.
- Pray that God will draw Qataris to himself and give them a clear understanding of the gospel.
- Ask God to give Qatari leaders wisdom and compassion to rule responsibly for all people in Qatar.
- Pray for workers in Qatar to receive justice and care.
- Ask that Muslim-background believers in Qatar will be able to work and worship in freedom and security.
- Pray that God’s Word will become readily available in Qatar in print, online, and through creative media.