Religion in Arabia at this time was split into three main camps: Judaism, Christianity and polytheism.
It is certainly clear that Christianity existed in Qatar prior to the revelation of Islam. According to Byzantine and Syrian records Qatar was one of five Bishoprics that existed on the West side of the Gulf, and was known as Beth Qatraye.
From C650 to 676 the Bishop of the area was Thomas, and in 676 a council of Bishops was held in Qatar.
Qatar was also the birthplace of Saint Isaac, a Nestorian monk and hermit famous for his homilies. Although churches must have existed, no remains have been found to date, and it is possible that such churches that did exist were very simple affairs.
The nomadic tribes that roamed over Arabia, and which would have camped by springs in Qatar, would have included polytheists. Knowledge of the polytheists religion is mostly drawn from archeological sources and from chronicles written by Muslims.
Drawings on rocks suggested an ancient cult based on the bull nad the ostrich. Later, different gods were associated with the stars and assigned various divine powers such as protection, or revenge against enemies.
Although there were similarities across the regions, the exact practice varied from area to area. Part of the pagan religion was the worship of idols. Many tribed had their own idel: a wooden or stone statue or a rock.These were also included in the Kabah until they were destroyed by Mohamed after the conquest of Mecca.
Pre-Islamic Arabs also seemed to have worshipped the Moon Gpddess and her consort the Sun Goddess. Supreme Being Although polytheists, it seems that the Arabs of the time did have a notion of a supreme being that ruled over all.
Hence the Quran states: And if you ask them, Who created the heavens and the earth and constrained the sun and the moon (to their appointed task) they would say: Allah. How, then, are they turned away? (29:61)
In the seventh century Mohammed experienced his revelations. At a time when paganism was practised amongst many of the Arabic people, the new doctrine of monotheism and racial equality quickly won supporters.
The new religion spread through the Arabian peninsula, and Qatar became Islamic early on, in the middle of the 600s. When Islam first arose, Christians, who had long suffered at the hands of other religions, often fought alongside the Muslims.
Islam was seeing as being much closer to Christianity than other preceding religions. Both religions were monotheist, and Mohammad had recognised Christianity as being a religion of the book.
Natives of Qatar follow the Wahhabism strand of Sunni Islam. The doctrine of Wahhabism was formed by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who sought to return to traditional Islamic values, rejecting everything that had been added to Islam after the first three centuries.
Strict Wahabbism rejects the validity of alternative religions or alternative interpretations of Islam. Wahabbi teachings can be found printed daily in Qatar's English language newspapers, such as The Spirit of Truth in the Gulf Times.
Wahabbism emerged in Saudi Arabia when Muhammad Al-Wahhab found an ally in Mohammed-Ibn-Saud in 1740. The conquest of much of Arabia by the Sauds helped the doctrine to spread, and the revenues from oil wealth helped to fund Wahabbi missionary activity.
The influence of Islam on people in Qatar can not be underestimated. Not only do the Islam affect the way people behave, it affects the very way they talk, with speech regularly punctuated by phrases such as “God Willing” and “Thanks be to God.” (See Arabic phrases for more information.)
Islam also affect people's outlook on life. A strong strand of fatalism runs through the philosophy of many Muslims, who believe that the time when we die is determined by God and not by our decisions in life. There is also, of course, is the effect on Muslims every day life - which, five times a day, whether at work or play, is punctuated by the call to prayer.
Religion plays an even bigger part during Ramadan when, at temperatures up to nearly 50 degrees, Muslims go without food or water from dawn to dusk.
Exactly how strictly the religion is followed depends on the person, although you are unlikely to find a Qatari who does not believe in the basic tenants of Islam.
When native Qataris are strict, they are more likely to be conservative rather than fanatic. This conservatism should not be confused with support for terrorism. See the Five Pillars of Islam for more information on the religion.
The implementation of Wahabbism is far more gentle than in Saudi Arabia. Drinking is allowed, albeit within strict boundaries, and women are allowed to drive and work (with permission from the male members of their families) and vote.
Although Sharia law is followed for Muslims, amputation is not enforced and there is a de facto ban on the death penalties, with the capital punishment instituted by local courts being commuted by the Emir.
It is perhaps worth noting that there are conservative as well as liberal strands in Qatar, and this can be seen in the appearance of women. Qatari women from stricter families will cover their face completely, while the most liberal will show their face and cover only part of their hair.
The Amir interprets Islam as both a democratic and humanitarian religion.
In a speech given at the Doha 7th democracy forum in April 2007 the Emir stated: “I would like to refute any call trying to attribute that [the slowness of democracy in the region] to the culture of the region which is based on the teachings of Islam; those sublime teachings which instruct their followers to be forgiving, urge them to be tolerant, make Shura and the rendering of advice obligatory, and stress the sanctity of human rights.
We all know that these principles are the core of democratic practice.” Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al-Missned, the Emir's wife, who is is a role model for many women in Qatar, has also urged education and job creation outside Qatar as the best method of combating extremism amongst Muslims.
The main religious holidays are Eid Al Fitri, which celebrates the end of the month of fasting with feasting, and Eid Al Adha, the festival of sacrifice.
With a huge number of expatriates in the country (around 75% of the population according to QNB stats) there are a number of different religions in the country, including Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism.
Under the current Emir freedom of worship in Qatar has been allowed, and the first of five churches has been constructed on land donated by the Emir. The appearance of the church is deliberately low key, with no cross showing nor bells being heard.
Not all Muslims in Qatar agree with allowing a church in Qatar - see the Cross shall not be raised in Qatar. In addition to allowing the opening of churches, Qatar has also hosted interfaith dialogues.
The interfaith dialogue has included rabbis and Jews. Inevitably there has been some criticism and tension, with, according to the International Herald Tribune, one preacher stating: “This openness to other faiths creates confusion among our people and jeopardizes our identity."