An opportunity long hoped for and sought by the Arab and Muslim world: to host the prestigious World Cup competition.
In 2010, after many failed bids by different Arab states, the small, though vibrant and affluent Gulf state of Qatar succeeded in its bid to lead the world for the 2022 edition. And now that the tournament is finally here, festive spirits and heartfelt pride engulf every corner of the globe as Arab and Muslim communities come together to celebrate not only the biggest sporting event in the world but also their own cultural and regional identity.
To say that hosting the World Cup is such a momentous, meaningful stepping stone would be an understatement. For the Arab world, this is an indispensable chance for strong representation amid a long history of prejudice from the Western world. The state of Qatar and the entire region long to properly showcase the cultural beauty, economic and manufacturing capacity, and honest universality of the Arab and Muslim population.
Her Excellency Mariam Al-Misnad, Minister of Social Development and Family in Qatar, shared in an interview with Qatar News Agency (QNA) that hosting the World Cup “is an opportunity that we have long waited for as Arabs and Muslims to show the whole world our true face away from distortion and stereotypes. We should not feel threatened. We are proud of our culture and religion.”
To properly represent and honor the rich culture and history of Qatar and the Arab regions at large, the host nation did not disappoint. Artistic and religious references litter nearly every element of the 2022 World Cup, even the eight Qatari stadiums in which the matches are being played. The construction of each stadium features deliberate designs inspired by Arabic and Islamic art and history.
For example, Al Bayt stadium, which hosted the World Cup opening ceremony and opening match, is a tent-like structure inspired by the lifestyle of Qatar’s nomadic tribes.
Al-Janoub stadium features a cultural design akin to the sails of traditional Dhow boats, referencing the rich maritime history of the city of Al Wakrah.
The futuristic, yet historic Lusail stadium, which will host the final match, is inspired by the interplay of light and shadow, characteristic of the Fanar lantern. Its design highlights decorative motifs that originated in the golden age of art in the Arab and Islamic world.
Just by traveling to Qatar and attending the matches offers individuals outside of the Arab and Muslim world the opportunity to immerse themselves in the Qatari lifestyle, the Arabic language, the Islamic traditions, and so much more. Having that first-hand experience is the first step towards an open mind for other cultures and ways of life—which is what the Arab world has sought from outsiders for a long, long time. And the World Cup in Qatar is facilitating it.
Since the tournament kicked off, the Arab community has showcased a powerful Pan-Arab nationalism on both local and international levels.
Qatar is the first World Cup host to feature more than one national team from the Gulf region, including its own national team. What makes this accomplishment extra special is the exceptional performance of different Arab teams throughout the tournament that has spotlighted the region’s athletic potential. One of the most exciting moments was Saudi Arabia’s shocking upset against the current finalists for the World Cup prize—the highly esteemed Argentinian team. Saudi’s success elated the Arab world as celebrations ignited all across the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia’s presence even managed to alleviate some of its political tension with Qatar and open the door for stronger diplomatic friendliness in the future. Moments of unity amidst political division are always a hopeful sight.
The Arab athletic feats don’t stop there! The beautiful run of the Moroccan national team united just about every single Arab in the world as they cheered on the first African and Arab state to make it to the semifinals in World Cup history. Muslim Moroccan players were often seen practicing Islam on the field before, during, and after matches, from reciting dua’a (a form of prayer) to performing sujood as an act of Islamic worship. Spectators, football fans, and more witnessed the practices of a religion they may have once misjudged or misunderstood, and Muslims all across the world relished in the sublimity of their peaceful religion being showcased. Yes, the acts may seem small to outsiders, but to practicing Muslims, it’s a much different story.
Although Morocco ultimately fell to France in the semifinals, Arab pride overflowed the globe amidst the making of athletic and cultural history. And that pride is only growing more and more every day, even as the World Cup reaches its final few matches. The cup was lost, but hearts were won. A meaningful moment in history for the Arab world, truly.
Islam has not been the only subject of representation during the World Cup. Indeed, the presence of Palestinian solidarity has established new grounds of hope for Palestinian communities across the world. Fans from all different countries have unfurled flags in the stands, and even the Moroccan team sported one in a number of their victory pictures. For Palestinians, this visible solidarity provides a sense of togetherness in what can often feel like a solo battle. On a global scale, they have been given a unique voice. They have been given the chance of unavoidable representation.
As the very first Arab state to host the World Cup, the expectations have been naturally high for Qatar. For the Arab and Muslim world, hosting the World Cup is a chance to finally turn the page on how outsiders see and perceive them. A chance to highlight their region’s extraordinary culture, history, and universality through undistorted representation, on and off the field. A chance to showcase unbridled pride and love for their identity on small and large scales.
Though the tournament is not over just yet, Qatar’s World Cup legacy will not possibly go without underscoring the triumphs in driving a true, unwavering representation of the Arab world. While fans won’t be watching an Arab team compete for the grand prize in the final match, the Arab world truly sees Qatar’s World Cup as a victory.
“نحلم أن يكون العالم أحلى ونعيش بحب”
“We dream of a better world and to live with love”
– Dreamers by Jungkook ft. Fahad Al Kubaisi
FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Official Soundtrack