By: Boshra Al-Meraikhi, Priyanka Godbole and Racha El Ourradi
Shorooq Shaheen, like many Millennials, carefully curates her Instagram feed to showcase her personal tastes. From highlighting her favorite clothing brands to posting pictures of her travels, her account serves as a platform for her personality. Unlike the majority of young Qatari women, however, by showcasing snippets of her lifestyle Shaheen has managed to generate an avid following and become what many refer to as “Instagram famous.”
Shaheen studied broadcast journalism during her undergraduate years, and believes that her higher education played a major role in crafting her social media presence.
“We studied about social media, and how we can use it in a way of benefitting society,” Shaheen said. “Personally, if I appeared on social media without showing my face, people would not be able to connect with me.”
Qatari lifestyle blogger Dana Ahmed, 20, has developed a prominent social media presence through her various accounts. An interior design student at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, Ahmed strives to stay away from the public eye. Contrary to Shaheen, she refuses to show her face online or in interviews for her own set of reasons.
Shaheen’s and Ahmed’s contrasting online presences shed light on a larger lifestyle debate within the relatively conservative Qatari society: how women should present themselves online. While the majority of Qatari women do don traditional Arab dress on social media, the controversy stems primarily from a preference among women to either show or conceal their faces in posts.
“Growing up in this culture, I believe that everyone was brought up being very camera-shy, and not wanting to show their faces all the time or having their picture taken,” Ahmed said.
Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar, 38, is an author and professor at Qatar Foundation who discusses this controversy in a paper titled Faceless Facebook: Female Qatari Users Choosing Wisely. Rajakumar penned the paper seven years ago as part of a book chapter, and believes that Qataris have started to exercise more control over their online identities since then.
Rajakumar recalls an incident in 2014, when a documentary was released featuring several young Qatari women who went to Brazil to rebuild a school. The women in the film were heavily criticized on social media for not dressing in headscarves and traditional abaya during their trip.
“A campaign called Qatar Together came out in support of the team that went to the Amazon, and a lot of women made their profile pictures their faces to stand with them,” Rajakumar said. “More moderate people are speaking out in a public space to make it more comfortable for others who might want to do the same.”
Rajakumar herself has a strong social media presence with 36,000 Twitter followers. She has found through her work that the majority of social niches, particularly on Instagram, are more female friendly than male–at least in Qatari society.
According to Shaheen, the challenges Qatari women face on social media parallel the challenges they face living in a male-dominated society.
“We are in a society where it is unacceptable for a woman to show her face. The woman’s position is very limited,” she said.
Ghadeer Jassim Abdulrahman, a 20-year-old Qatari journalism student at Northwestern University in Qatar reviews restaurants and products via her blog, Twitter and Snapchat, yet refrains from showing her face because of a social stigma placed on her by her family.
“I really wanted to become a social media influencer, but due to the fact that my family is conservative they wouldn’t allow me to,” Abdulrahman said. “I would love to be who I am online, but my family is conservative.”
Abdulrahman believes that showing her face is not a religious matter, but rather a cultural preference.
“Even the niqab isn’t considered as a religious thing because it depends on your choice,” she said. Islam is a smooth religion. You’re not forced to do anything you don’t want with it.”
Societal and cultural debates aside, it is clear that Qatari women are persisting to stand up for what they are passionate about online and through social media channels.
“One needs courage because you will receive criticism from every other field–whether you are successful or not,” Shaheen said. “You need to be strong, and ignore negative, destructive criticism.”
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Dune bashing is a popular activity among young Qatari males, and it is even attracting expats. This video gives an overview of the laws that are non-exsistent and the risks surrounding this daring activity.
This news package was reported by Bothaina Al-Thani and I.
Abdulaziz Ayub shines light on the rising prices of rent. A real estate agent, Saleh Ibrahim,gives reasons to why there is a rental price inflation. This news package was reported by Bothaina Al-Thani and I.
My partner, Bothaina Al-Thani, and I reported on the potential shut down of the old library, Dar Al Kutb, as soon as the new Qatar National Library launches.
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/186029809″>A Blast from the Past: Abdulla & Dar Al Kutb</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user49103043″>Boshra Al-Meraikhi</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
“I was young and had nothing,” said Shoomal Qassim Boloush, 54.
Boloush always felt betrayed by his country, Iran, because it does not appreciate the sect of Islam that he belongs to which is Sunni Islam.
“There is not a single Sunni mosque,” he said.
Boloush no longer found himself being accepted by his own country. He was completely lost.
“I am not allowed to stay there (in Iran) for more than six months at a time,” he added.
Boloush knew that joining the army would give him a source of income that will enable him to start his own business. Despite him not feeling acknowledged by his country, he developed himself by firstly following what he was passionate about. Boloush started up his own local business, in Makran, called Baqalat Abu-Nasser.
“Today my eldest son has inherited this local business and is working in it. It feels good to know that you have secured a source of income for your children,” he said.
“I am married to three women, and I am eager to marry a fourth,” Boloush added.
He supports the concept of polygamy, regardless of his modest financial status. In fact, he believes the more wives and children he has, the more blessed his life becomes. Boloush has nine children and three grandchildren. His first son, Abdel Nasser, is the most he sees his young passionate self in.
Despite that fact that Boloush considers Qatar to be his home, the most thing he longs for is reconciling with his children and spending more time with them.
“When I compare Qatar from the 80’s to today, it seems like I am in a completely different world. Qatar has evolved in so many positive ways. But, my level of comfort has always been the same. Qatar is more home to me than anywhere else,” said Boloush.
One of his job requirements in which he is committed to do is gathering missing household supplies when necessary. He is also a supervisor to all domestic workers in the household he works in. Some of his other responsibilities include coordinating the other employees in the house, such as drivers and maids.
Another one of his responsibilities is escorting and accompanying a travelling family member. He is the only employee in the household, in which he lives in, that is trusted and seen responsible enough to travel with family members. It was only after a long period of time of working hard and earning his employer’s trust that he was allowed to do so.
Boloush has developed a great love for travelling, and he mentioned that a few of his favorite cities include London, Paris, and Milan. London is where he most frequently comes across many workers like himself to GCC families. He connects with the workers as he finds many similarities in the nature of his work with them.
“Getting to know them has strengthened my connections. Also, we tend to talk a lot about our experiences and learn off of each others’ skill sets,” he said.
Khaled Ayub has become one of his closest friends. Ayub is the longest lasting driver in the household Boloush works in, which Boloush has worked well with. He finds Ayub to understand him at all times and trusts to delegate him with work.
“One of my most memorable trips was to the US. I established a connection with the country on a spiritual level by the sight of mosques,” he said.
When Boloush developed that unexpected spiritual connection in the United States, it lead him to reminisce the days he would see Sunni Mosques in Iran.
Boloush seemed like a cheerful and happy person as he spoke. At the same time, there was a lot of sadness in his eyes when he spoke about his past. This was most apparent when he talked about one of the challenges he went through in life, a car accident. On one occasion, Boloush accidentally hit a man with his car. This was a turning point in his life, where he chose to be more thankful towards God. This experience also resulted to him developing into a more spiritual person because his appreciation for life increased.
An “Ice Cream Social” was held at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar on Wednesday.