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Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

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Qatar’s blasphemy laws are among the five worst in the world when it comes to violating human rights, a new US report has said.

The Gulf state was ranked fifth in the newly released Respecting Rights? Measuring the World’s Blasphemy Laws.

It came just behind Iran, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and narrowly ahead of Egypt, Italy and Algeria.

U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

Respecting Rights? Measuring the World’s Blasphemy Laws.

The report was authored by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

It found that 71 of the world’s 195 nations have blasphemy laws, with penalties ranging from fines to jail time or death.

Blasphemy was defined as “the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God.”

Human rights

The purpose of the report was to raise awareness of human rights violations incurred through blasphemy laws.

In a statement, USCIRF Chairman Daniel Mark said the problem with such legislation is that it can lead to violence.

“Advocates for blasphemy laws may argue that they are needed in order to protect religious freedom, but these laws do no such thing,” he said.

“Blasphemy laws are wrong in principle, and they often invite abuse and lead to assaults, murders, and mob attacks. Wherever they exist, they should be repealed.”

The 71 countries with blasphemy legislation were ranked in the report. Factors included the vagueness and penalty severity of the laws, as well as how they affected freedom of expression and religion.

Whether the rules discriminated against groups through state religion protections was also assessed.

Performing Eid prayer

Ray Toh / Doha News

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The five worst-ranked nations, including Qatar, appear to protect the official state religion of Islam in a way that discriminates against non-Muslims, the report found.

It added that most countries listed in the report have signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protect free speech.

Qatar however is not a signatory to either document.

Qatar’s laws

Religion can be a bit of a touchy subject in Qatar, a conservative Muslim country.

Its first church since pre-Islamic times opened in 2008. But other religions such as Hinduism are not permitted to open houses of worship.

Lance Cenar

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In terms of disrespecting religion, Article 256 of Qatar’s penal code specifically prohibits:

  • Insulting God through writing, drawing, gesturing or in any other way or through any other means;
  • Offending, misinterpreting or violating the Quran;
  • Offending the Islamic religion or any of its rites and dictates;
  • Cursing any of the divine religions (Christianity and Judaism) according to the regulations of Islamic law;
  • Insulting any of the prophets through writing, drawing, gesturing or in any other way or through any other means; and
  • Sabotaging, breaking, damaging or violating sites or their contents if they are made to perform religious rites for one of the divine religions according to the regulations of Islamic law.

The maximum penalty for such offenses is seven years’ imprisonment.

One reason for Qatar’s poor score on the index was because it singled out Islam and “divine religions” in its blasphemy law.

This is problematic because it establishes “a clear hierarchy of beliefs within the confines of the state religion,” the report said.

Other nations

Countries with blasphemy laws that fared better in the report included Ireland, Spain and the Philippines.

The first two nations only punish blasphemy through a fine, and many of the top-scoring countries do not discriminate between religions.

Riyadh Al Balushi/Flickr

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Tunisia was the only Muslim nation in the top 10 best-scoring countries.

In terms of the Gulf, Saudi Arabia was 12th worst, Bahrain 13th, the UAE 16th and Oman 21st.

Kuwait fared better at 33rd, which was in the middle of the rankings.

Thoughts?

Satheesh/Flickr

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Non-Muslims should be afforded the same rights as Muslims when living in a Muslim country, the majority (89 percent) of recently polled Qatari youth have said.

They were the most likely in 10 Arab countries to believe this to be true.

That’s according to the second annual Muslim Millennial Attitudes on Religion and Religious Leadership report.

Al Tabah Foundation

Survey results

The findings concern the report’s authors, who said there is a “dire lack of understanding among young Arabs” about how citizenship and rights work under Islam.

“The view that citizenship is subject to a hierarchy of prominence determined primarily by one’s faith is precisely the frame that extremist groups want normalized,” the report said.

The survey was conducted by the Abu Dhabi-based Tabah Foundation along with Zogby Research, which released the results this week.

The report gauges religious sentiment among youth in Qatar, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Oman, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen.

To arrive at their conclusions, the authors interviewed more than 7,000 young Arabs in these countries earlier this year.

Identity questions

One reason Qataris might believe in equal treatment is because they were among the most likely to say they have friends or acquaintances who are not Muslim (84 percent).

In Lebanon, 95 percent of young Arabs answered affirmatively to that question.

Embrace Doha

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But elsewhere, most people in Sudan, Mauritania, Yemen and Tunisia, among others, said they do not have non-Muslim associates.

When it came to their identity, most Qatari youth (59 percent) surveyed listed their country as the first thing that defined them.

Far fewer cited being Arab (18 percent) or Muslim (19 percent) first, and only 4 percent listed their family or tribe first.

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

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However, nine out of 10 Qataris polled said it is still important for people they meet to know they are Muslim.

And 71 percent said religion has an important role to play in their country’s future.

Banning content

Perhaps due to their strong religious convictions, the majority of youth in all countries surveyed said they believe cultural content that breaches society’s morals and ethics should be banned.

In Qatar, 67 percent supported that notion, while 33 percent agreed with the idea that if they don’t like it, they don’t have to watch it.

Vox Cinema/Facebook

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Interestingly, Qatar was on the less conservative side when it came to censorship, compared to other countries surveyed (except for Lebanon).

The findings could indicate dropping support for banning content.

Just three years ago, for example, a media study found that 80 percent of Qatar residents approved the deletion of offensive scenes in movies.

“This support for censorship and government monitoring of entertainment content is observed across all facets of the population, except, perhaps, among Western expatriates in Qatar,” Northwestern University in Qatar said at the time.

Islamic reforms needed

When it comes to Islam, many Qataris (25 percent) said they found Friday sermons to be “bland and boring.” And only a third said they were inspirational.

The numbers may explain why Qataris overwhelmingly (70 percent) supported the idea of reforming religious discourse to make it more relevant to their lives.

Arshad Inamdar/Flickr

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Local youth also believe more can be done for women in society.

Some 79 percent of Qataris said their society respects and empowers women – the most out of every country except Yemen.

But Qataris were also the most likely to support the idea that female religious scholars should be able to preach more widely in society.

Finally, a majority of youth polled in all countries said groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda “are misguided and tarnish the image of Islam.”

Thoughts?

Bradley Weber/Flickr

The Manhattan skyline

A Qatari man hoping to promote cross-cultural understanding and debunk myths about Muslims is launching a new Islamic art museum in downtown New York next month.

Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Al-Thani told Doha News that he hopes the Institute of Arab and Islamic Art (IAIA) will “challenge stereotypes and grant artist, curators and writers from the region an opportunity to engage with a broader audience.”

The institute will present three to four temporary exhibitions a year.

IAIA

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They will feature artists from the Arab and Islamic world, with the aim of “enabling them to join a broader global conversation,” the IAIA’s website states.

Its first exhibition will go live on May 3 and involve Islamic architecture and geometry, Al Thani told Doha News.

“Though there are foundations in the US that engage in Arab and Islamic Art, the narratives presented and the exhibitions curated by these foundations are not quite reflective of our societies and cultures,” he added.

Background

A graduate of Georgetown University in Qatar’s School of Foreign Service, Al Thani has worked for the UN and Qatar Foundation.

He is currently writing a dissertation on Cezane and the advent of Fauvism and Cubism.

Cezane’s Card Players, reportedly bought by Qatar for record-breaking $250 million.

The IAIA is a non-profit organization funded by several donors from around the world, but does not have ties to governments, Al Thani said.

Qataris and Emiratis, including Mohammed Al Rabban, Sheikh Nasser Al-Thani, Sheikh Rashid Al-Thani, Safiya Al-Ghaith and Sheikha Sharifa Al-Qubaisi, are listed on the museum’s website as its founding benefactors.

Program

In addition to exhibitions, the institute also plans to launch a residency program. This will be for artists, critics and curators who are interested in engaging with a New York audience.

Residents will be provided housing and workspace, as well as learn about different artistic movements that originated in New York. They will also present work and projects at the IAIA.

Navin Sam / Doha News

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Another goal of the institute is to increase knowledge of Islamic civilization and history.

It plans to do this by engaging writers and scholars in translations and publications, the museum’s website states.

Finally, the IAIA is planning to host an outreach program with schools and universities through collaborations with Arab cultural center across the US, Al Thani said.

Thoughts?