It’s a weird word how we spell it in English. It violates that one rule about a q always being followed by a u. And how do you pronounce it? I’ve heard it pronounced as “cutter” for years and even pronounced it that way for a long time. However, I did a little research earlier and found a clip from NPR’s “All Things Considered” about the pronunciation of Qatar and came to the conclusion that it’s most likely pronounced as “kuh-TAR,” rhyming with “guitar.”
Roman writers were well aware of this peninsula, and Pliny the Elder is credited as the first European to give it the name Catharrei, possibly named after some town. However, Ptolomy was the first to draw a map of the area and label it as Catara. During the 18th century, it was labeled as Katara, and today it was changed to reflect a modern Arabic spelling.
The country of Qatar is a peninsula that juts out into the Persian Gulf in the Middle East. It borders one country by land (Saudi Arabia), two countries by water (Bahrain and United Arab Emirates), and is directly across from the country of Iran. The vast majority of the country consists of low plains and deserts. Summers are very hot and dry while the winters are very mild and slightly wetter, although it’s really not by much. On average, the country gets less than 3” of rain each year.
People have lived on the peninsula since the Stone Age. The Sasanian Empire moved into the area and Qatar contributed to their economy and trade with their pearl cultivation and creation of purple dye. Christianity was introduced about 400 years before Muhammad sent in his scouts to force them to practice Islam instead. This area was also an important breeding ground for camels and horses. And because of its location along the gulf, Qatari cities have long been an important stop in the trade routes. During the mid-1700s, clans from Kuwait started moving into the area. In turn, Qatari forces took over Bahrain. In retaliation to this, the Egyptians and Ottomans teamed up and hit them from the west side while the Omanis hit from the east. In 1821, a ship with the East India Company attacked the city of Doha because it was tired of their piracy. (Who wouldn’t be?) A few years later in 1825, the House of Thani was established as the ruling house, and they’re still in power today. And like most places, Qatar eventually did submit to Ottoman rule. However, initial support waned, and they stopped paying taxes. When the Ottomans stopped by in a “Where my money at?” moment, things went downhill from there, and battle ensued (more or less). In the end the Qataris gained the status of being an autonomous state. Reeling from losses from WWI, the Ottoman Empire relinquished its holdings to the British. Oil was discovered in 1939 but wasn’t explored until the 1950s. It was also part of the Trucial States, although Bahrain broke off, then Qatar, and what would be the UAE. During the Gulf War, Qatar allowed Canada to hole up there as well as the US and France. They also allowed the US to base its operations there after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In June of this year, several of its neighbors and Egypt cut off ties with Qatar because of its alleged support of extremist groups.
The capital of Qatar is Doha and is also one of its chief ports. It literally means “the big tree.” Although it was established in 1825, it wasn’t officially declared the capital until 1971 when they finally gave the boot to the British. The city played an important part along the trade routes and in the pearling industry. Today, Doha has hosted several pan-Arab and pan-Asian sporting events, international conferences, and will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Doha is the center of government, commerce, culture, and higher education. Al Jazeera Media Network, the second largest media company in the world (second to the BBC), is based on Doha. There are a number of art museums, theatres, and even a film festival based here.
For a long time, fishing and pearling were the main economic drivers for Qatar until the Japanese came up with cultured pearls during the 1920s, which rained on the Qatari’s parade. However, oil was discovered in the gulf, and although it took a while to fully assess the area for extraction, it changed everything. Qatar is the leading exporter of liquefied natural gas. There’s no income tax and unemployment is super low (like 0.1%). Although they have a high-income economy, they rely quite a bit on foreign workers to get there.
Like much of the region, Islam is the majority religion of Qatar. The majority of the people practice Salafi Islam (part of Wahhabism). There are also sizable followers of both Christianity (mostly Catholic) and Hinduism and a smaller group of Buddhists. The minor religions in Qatar are pretty much only practiced by foreigners.
Arabic is the official language here, but locals speak a Qatari Arabic dialect. They even have their own Qatari sign language as well. English is the most studied/most spoken second language, and in many cases (commerce, for example), it’s used as a lingua franca. Because of its international make up of foreign workers, there are many other languages and cultures (mostly Asian) represented in Qatar.
This area is so hot in the summers that it’s nearly unbearable. As a half-Scottish and half-German woman, I would practically burst into flames if I were to go during summer. Architects have come up with some solutions for creating more shadow areas as well as advanced ventilation and cooling systems. They’re even looking into using more reflective materials on the buildings themselves. Scientists predict that if climate change stays its course, Doha and other areas of Qatar will become inhabitable by the 2070s. That’s roughly 50 years from now. I will be 88 years old. It’s entirely possible I will watch this country disappear. And that scares me.
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