Religious Broadcasting in Qatar: A Study of Two Local Television Programs

By Bothaina Aldosari
Submitted to Session P4881 (Rethinking Wahhabism in the Gulf, 2017 Annual Meeting
Middle East/Near East Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
In the field of media production the state of Qatar is best known for the satellite television station Al-Jazeera, established in 1996. From the very beginning of its operations Al-Jazeera hosted a weekly religious show, Al-Shari‘a wa-l-Hayat with Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi as its main scholar, until diplomatic tensions led to its cancellation in 2014. The orientation of Al-Shari‘a wa-l-Hayat was deliberately international (Galal 2009). Questions from Muslims in the West featured prominently in the show, contributing decisively to fashioning Qaradawi’s reputation as a “global mufti” (Skovgaard-Petersen and Gräf 2009). The show’s impact upon local Qatari society was however marginal.

In this paper I discuss two religious shows, “Mafatih al-Khayr” and “Al-Mutawa”, aired on Qatar’s local television channels popular among the native population. Qatar National Television and more recently Al-Rayyan (established in 2012) target Qatari audiences through a careful selection of traditional and modern content. The two channels are widely perceived to be more in tune with local concerns and culture than Al-Jazeera. The shows rely primarily on religious scholars from Qatar and the Gulf, including prominent imams, professors of Islamic studies from Qatar University, shari‘a consultants in the state’s Family Consultancy Center, and local and foreign preachers from the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

In line with the policies of the Qatari state to depoliticize religion, producers in Qatar’s local channels seek to distance their religious programs from the content offered in Al-Jazeera – a channel they often perceive to be political in its coverage of international affairs and religious ideology. On the basis of content analysis of the two religious programs and interviews with producers and TV anchors, I will show how the production teams of religious shows in Qatar’s local channels avoid controversial issues by focusing mainly on questions of basic religious education (“honoring parents”, “worship”, “loving God”, “decency in Islam”). Even when programs address potentially tricky issues, such as the lives of the Companions, producers carefully avoid entering into political debates and fuelling sectarian tensions. The religious shows thus participate in the state’s attempt to marshal religion for building a modern Qatari nation and creating a civil Islam.