When people ask me how I like living in Qatar – as I’ve done for the past four years – it’s usually the weather or the Islamic culture they are asking about. How do I deal the extreme temperatures that are mirrored (in some people’s opinions) in the extreme attitudes towards women’s dress, alcohol, etc. is at the root of both these questions.
This summer I’m living in Damascus, Syria and studying Arabic intensively because most people in Qatar converse in English and will switch to English with foreigners.
The interesting part of being here is the cultural in-between space that I find myself once again occupying. I am married; therefore I don’t want to live in an apartment with non-relative men. I don’t drink alcohol and I prefer that men who aren’t my brother or father to not touch me even in jest or passing; I believe in God.
These are four principles I share with Muslim women even though I am not Muslim. People are often surprised by my adherence to these traits because they are used to their stereotypes of "Western" or foreign women who are reputed to have no such standards.
Indeed all conservatives treat their women the same: Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Jews. All the faithful female followers cover themselves, accept subscribed positions in their various societies, and are responsible for child rearing. The irony of course is that the most pious of these religious leaders rarely see any similarities between their faiths.
I do like living in Qatar because I don’t have to explain why any of the above is true. Arabs are pleasantly surprised to find that we have common ground. I also try to explain to individualistic Westerners how collectivist societies influence the choices of their members. And I have come to the moment that my parents were waiting for – an appreciation for the values they instilled in me (although we still have differences about how they were delivered).