Qatar Guide

Qatari Culture

Qatar is in the midst of phenomenal socio-economic change that has had a transformative effect on the country and its culture. Trying to strike a balance between embracing modernity and still holding onto their cultural heritage, Qatar still prides itself on its traditional tribal roots.

With Qatari nationals making 12% of the total population it’s even more imperative that while embracing other cultures they still hold onto and celebrate their own heritage.

Qatari culture can be traced back to three main influences, the desert, the sea and Islam. The desert, bedouin culture is intrinsic to Qatari identity and culture. Bedouin traditions stem directly from a nomadic desert existence. The climate and terrain of the desert forced certain attributes that are now widely associated with bedouin culture, like hospitality and poetry.

The original bedouin lifestyle of migration with herds of animals also shaped what is now considered traditional Qatari food. Milk based foods are still a common staple, as are dates which are served at all social functions.


The Bedouin relationship with their animals is still a source of pride today. The Arabian Peninsular is one of the last places in the world where falconry is still actively practiced. Falconry has deep roots within Qatari culture, dating back almost 5000 years and was introduced by the bedouin as an effective means of hunting migrating birds crossing the Arabian Peninsular. Today that knowledge is regarded as a national heritage and passed down through the generations with pride.

Within Souq Waqif you can find a falcon souq and hospital where falcons can be bought and sold for thousands of dollars and some prized birds are even issued with thier own passports to prevent them being taken illegally out of the country without thier owners permission, and so it is not unheard of to be seated near a falcon and its handler on regional airlines.

Al Gannas Society aims to maintain the falcon tradition through competitions and events like the Qatar International Festival of Falcons which is the largest specialised festival for falcons. To many, falconry offers a perfect glimpse into how life in Qatar used to be. Check their website for details:


Camel racing is known as 'the sport of sheikhs' and has its roots going back over a thousand years within the region. The camel race track is located in Al Shahaniya, west of Doha. Local races occur on Fridays from November to Feburary, with big events happening from March to April, culminating in the end of season Emir GCC Camel Race with prizes like the 'golden sword'.

During the season as many as six thousand camels participate in the races, from Qatar and the region. Camel racing is big business, with some camels costing as much as luxury cars.

The camels are now operated by robot jockeys equipped with radio monitors issuing the trainers intructions.

A trip to Al Shahaniya should be on your list if you want to experience some real Qatari culture. The whole town is a glimpse into camel culture and if you go early enough you can stroll around the paddocks and meet the camels and their handlers.

For race timings call 4487 2028

Being of a nomadic existence, bedouin culture was an oral tradition. Poetry, story telling and oral lines of lineage were the means by which tradition and culture were passed on through generations.

Poetry was, and still is, an integral part of Bedouin culture. It is regarded as a verbal art and tribal poets are a source of pride to their tribe. Local poems, known as Nabati poems are regularly broadcast on Qatari TV and radio because they are seen as fulfilling essential social functions and celebrating national pride in cultural heritage.

The sea, which almost entirely surrounds Qatar is another huge ingredient of cultural influence. The sea was the main source of resources in the region and so is essential to maintaining and understanding Qatari culture.

Qatari’s are very proud of their maritime tradition which was based around pearl diving, fishing and boat making. Many of the poems and folklore are based on sea related topics.

The local folk music has a very close association with the sea. The lyrics of these traditional songs speak of pearl diving, spreading the sails, and rowing, and are normally sung collectively as the sailors would have.

Accompanying the folk music and drummers is a traditional folk dance known as the Ardah. This involves two parallel rows of men facing each other, often carrying swords or canes.

There is an annual dhow festival held in Katara that celebrates not only the boats but the entire tradition associated with them, food, music, dance, clothes, and the sailors.

Although the primary art form of Qatar has traditionally been oral there are several visual exceptions. There are at least a dozen rock-carving sites in Qatar, the most prolific site is Jabal Al Jassasiya. The rock-carvings or ‘petroglyphs’ mainly look like cups in several different formations as well as stars, rosettes, footprints and boats.

Other notable forms of traditional artistic expression have been influenced by the other major cultural source in the region, Islam. Calligraphy and architecture have been used as forms of Islamic visual expression and often together. Islamic calligraphy often takes centre place in traditional architecture.

Islam also influences social interaction within Qatar in both the public and private sphere. Culturally there is a distinction between public and private space and that can determine gender interactions. Those holding more traditional views preferring public separation between the genders. So for example some Qatari’s prefer not to shake hands with the opposite gender, others however, don’t mind so as a general rule with social etiquettes it is always better to follow the lead of each individual.

Traditional dress is a product of the Islamic tradition which requires modesty, both male and female in the public realm. The thobe, the long white robe typically worn by men is normally accompanied by a head covering known as the gutra which is held in place by a black rope called agal. The women wear a black robe known as an abaya with a head covering known as shayla.

In a cultural climate where modest attire is the norm it could be interpreted as culturally insensitive to not adhere to a basic view of modest dress.

The Islamic month of Ramadan is widely evident in Qatar. Fasting is prescribed during sunlight hours so all restaurants are closed during the day. During this time it is deemed culturally inappropriate to be seen eating in public, but obviously non-muslims are not expected to fast ,but discretion is advised.

Qatar National Day is celebrated on December 18th, but the build up in the weeks proceeding offer a glimpse into Qatari cultural heritage. Nowhere is this more evident than in the grounds of Darb Al Saai, which hosts a huge display of events and activities intrinsic to Qatari culture. This is the perfect place to become exposed to Qatari cultural life.