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JustHere | November 15, 2017

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No Entry for Qatari Women: The day I was banned from Jazz

No Entry for Qatari Women: The day I was banned from Jazz

I’m a young woman who has developed a sense of appreciation and fondness for jazz over the last decade. Unfortunately, my love for jazz brought me face to face with a discriminatory law when a female friend and I tried to attend the “Women in Jazz” event last Thursday at Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) in the St. Regis Hotel.  I was denied entrance for being a Qatari woman. (I am not sure if it is a law or just an arbitrary policy, but in this narration, I will use the term ‘law’.)

I was born and raised in Qatar, and both my parents are Qatari. But as a result of my country’s international profile, my education, technology, and friends, I have developed a global identity.  I respect local social norms yet I aspire to experience the best of what the world has to offer, including jazz music.  I’m one of many Qatari women who enjoy live jazz music. So, I was excited in 2012 when JALC opened in Doha. It quickly became one of my favorite cultural spots and a vibrant venue, which played host to two friends’ birthday dinners.

Why was national dress not allowed? Was it the presence of alcohol? Wouldn’t anyone who wishes to drink be able to so in Doha or overseas?

Before my first visit to JALC I found that “national dress” was stated as not allowed on their website. Although I didn’t understand the reasons behind the prohibition of national dress, I complied and was able to enjoy the venue, food and the music. National dress for Qataris means thobes for men and the black robe, or abayas, for women. We wear it as a way of expressing our culture and national identity. I cover my body modestly and hair, in the accompanying, shayla or hijab. So why was national dress not allowed? Was non-Qatari ‘national dress’ allowed? Was it the presence of alcohol? Then why is ‘national dress’ allowed at many restaurants and airlines that serve alcohol? Was it so that no Qataris will drink? Wouldn’t anyone who wishes to drink be able to so in Doha or overseas? If because it is haram, then why import alcohol to Doha in the first place? Nonetheless, I tolerated that no ‘national dress’ rule, donned a colorful hijab, modest shirt and skirt and went for one purpose: to enjoy jazz as it’s meant to be heard – live.

Now, it would seem that ‘national dress’ is no longer an issue. Women are the issue. Qatari women.

Like the three previous times, I wasn’t in my abaya when I went to JALC. Also, I checked their webpage for any policy changes.  I didn’t see any references to the “ID scanning”, which I read as a polite way to say, “No Qataris allowed.” Yet, I was denied entry for being a Qatari woman.  Qatari men, on the other hand, are still welcome, just not in their thobes.

If the presence of alcohol truly was the issue, venues could be divided into alcoholic and non-alcoholic sections, or even days.

I, a Qatari woman, was banned from an event that celebrated the women of jazz.  The obvious irony aside, I also was embarrassed when the guest relation’s manager politely, but firmly denied my entrance.  What really embarrassed me though was the thought that as a citizen of Qatar, I was banned from enjoying this unique art form…in Qatar!

I have always been a responsible person, and that responsibility doesn’t come from any external source, but rather from a freedom of choice, an inner sense of reason and awareness. And this is the case for so many young other Qatari men and women who I know. If this ban was because of alcohol, I appreciate the intention to protect Qataris potential discomfort. However, such a law can be an obstacle in our practical development, independence and sensibility. Additionally, this law doesn’t help in sparing us from the cultural shock when we leave our Doha bubble. Furthermore, if the presence of alcohol truly was the issue, venues could be divided into alcoholic and non-alcoholic sections, or even days. If self-monitoring doesn’t suffice and there are other religious, cultural or legal reasons, then simply don’t serve alcohol to Qataris.

It saddens me that now in order to enjoy live jazz music I must either wait for the few seasonal public concerts at the MIA Park, or travel abroad. Even the new monthly “family afternoons” are geared towards specific audience and purpose, not for the entire public. When jazz came to Doha with the opening of the Jazz at Lincoln Center at St. Regis, I was ecstatic. I thought both citizens and expats will be able to enjoy what the venue has to offer, in my case it was food and live music. Unfortunately, the recent rule changes have made this jazz venue more like a speakeasy to those like me, and I don’t know the password or the secret knock, I hope for a change, an equitable change.

JustHere contacted St. Regis for a comment, to which an official said, “We do make our JALC Doha musicians available to the entire community through our family afternoons and free concerts in MIA Park.”

[Photo courtesy: JALC website]

Note: This article has been updated with a quote from a St. Regis official.


  1. JohnDoe

    It’s because they’re afraid of Qatari girls whoring themselves out. Let’s just say it out loud.

  2. Terry

    Dear Writer Fatema Al Dosari,

    As I don’t object to allowing Qatari women in venues here in Qatar, I believe your article is flawed in its critical argument in conveying your main idea. It sounds as a rant or a wind of frustration to be honest, leaving the reader to question your intent or your conclusion. Let me explain.

    First, the purpose of your article should be identified. What is your main idea? What is the message that you are most concerned with? Is the problem you are facing directly JALC? Or is the problem Qatari Women?

    Its obvious that they are neither, the argument should not be aimed to JALC or women. It could be more plausible, in this case, to aim your argument towards men. However, I can help you reach your critical argument in a better way without aiming towards men for the sake of critical thinking.

    As a pre-note, I am a believer in equal rights and I do not condone sexism or racism. This article ought continue to complete itself on is the understated grounds of “Social Dogma” that exists in the Middle East. This leads to the false perception of women that men have. Where does this problem arise from? Could it be from years of tradition? Or could it be from the variety of interpretations of religion that cause social injustice? What about humanitarianism? What about free speech? Where is the State of Qatar on the map of Contemporary Society?

    Moreover, how can we begin a debate about women’s rights before we even begin to talk about basic human rights? Not to downplay the importance in women in life, I believe social injustices can have a huge impact on all people.

    What the problem is: Perception of women in Qatar must change in order to preserve social norms. How can we change that? And what is the root of this problem? That is your question, not some rant about why you cannot get inside JALC.

    The Article could have been written better.

    I hope you are empowered now to find the answers you wish you seek further.



    • William

      I was debating whether or not I would compose a long response to your post because it bothered me so much but will refrain. What I find so offensive about your comment was its tone. It was written with an air of superiority, and while it possessed the guise of support, it was unnecessarily critical, to the point of being condemnatory. You failed to recognize the intent and style of the article (It is more of an op-ed blog post than a social commentary prepared for journal submission). While a clear and supported thesis is the hallmark of elevated thinking and writing, the informal nature of this piece excuses their absence.
      Your suggestions for strengthening the article were insightful, but your condescension was bothersome. Also, look at the length of your post; it appears to be about ¼ the length of the OP and the ideas you expressed require no more than 4-5 sentences, max.

  3. Abn

    Dear fatima ,
    We all know that it is a policy of many hotels that they deny entry to such suspicious places ( ex: places that has alcohol in it etc)
    So why embarrass your self from the first place and put your self in such a situation when we all know that these events does not target Qataries in general

    • Daphne

      Dear Abn,

      The JALC does not promote itself as a suspicious place for people to go and consume alcohol; it promotes itself as an artistic center for people to go and enjoy live jazz music, and it happens to serve alcohol (as part of a full menu of food & beverage).

      Fatima was not embarrassing herself through her desire to attend the ‘Women in Jazz’ event on the evening in question. In the past, she attended three other Jazz events that interested her at the JALC, and on all occasions she traded her usual abaya with a hijab and modest attire (if only to comply with the center’s publicized dress code) and voluntarily refrained from ordering alcohol. Furthermore, in the spirit that ‘jazz is for everyone’ the JALC has never – at least not formally – indicated that its target audience is anything other than inclusive (with the exception of children to which they dedicate one afternoon performance per month).

      The JALC should be embarrassed for putting Fatma in an awkward position as a direct result of their failure to announce that they had a change of heart/policy AND subsequently grouping Qatari women in the same category as children.

  4. Jim Solomon

    I admit that I am not well versed in Muslim culture, but I have lived through times in the United States when blacks and gays have been denied the same rights as the majority. In my opinion, your policy of not allowing a woman who in every way, shape, and form is a woman with whom Qatar should be very proud, is setting you back in the eyes of the west about 100 years. And it will have an economic impact on Qatar. I know that I would never stay at the Doha St. Regis Hotel as long as they maintain this discriminatory policy. In my mind, none of us is free unless all of us are free.

  5. Inshallah

    Really interesting perspective on an issue that expats tend to disregard. It’s so easy to think about Qataris in terms of privilege, especially financial well-being. But your article is a good reminder that for Qatari women, there are clear boundaries about physical movement. You rarely see Qatari women in the Industrial Area, cheap restaurants, or shisha joints – there are no prohibitions for Qatari women to go to those places, but it’s generally viewed as socially unacceptable. Unspoken norms, dangerous as they are, are nonetheless vastly different from explicit bans.

    The policies, at the end of the day, fail to accomplish anything other than discrimination against Qatari women. If the goal is to prevent Muslims from being in an environment with alcohol, then everyone’s ID should be scanned, and Muslims shouldn’t be given entry. But the specific denial of entry to Qatar women is discriminatory without rational impact, in my opinion.

    Fatima, thank you for having the guts to bring up this issue. As Qatar gears up for the 2022 World Cup, we constantly hear that everything in Qatar is hear to help “develop” the country. Universities are here to train a new generation of Qataris. Public works are underway to change the physical appearance of the state. Restaurants, hotels, cafes, shopping malls, health centers… even the Qatar Philharmonic! They’re all here to benefit the future generation. So if JALC is here in order to inculcate a generation with an understanding, appreciation, and passion for world-class music, then it needs to check its priorities. Because it seems to me like it’s leaving half of its target audience behind.

  6. ghina

    My dearest friend fatma,
    It is not unusual to find you having the courage to express it to the public what many others have complained silently. I am a fan of techno and trance for example, the combination of music +hijab + local dress + venue with alcohol was always the problem. While you will find people saying , you don’t need to go to these places when you can listen to the music you like in your car or room..but at the end you are demanding for offering opportunity to enjoy the music everywhere in Doha by everyone regardless of their choice of dress or traditional appearance. You got my support and i believe your voice is heard :))

  7. Both Abn’s simplistic comment and Terry’s self-impressed pretentiousness fail to answer Fatma L. Dorsi’s basic question: why is an adult, sophisticated young woman barred from attending a public performance? The essence of jazz is freedom, so the ugly irony of forbidding her to attend contradicts the very nature of the performance itself.

  8. Lina

    Fatima, you are a great example of smart, educated, and successfull Arab woman who takes pride in her Qatari and Muslim identity.
    It is with individuals like you we can see the shaping of the contemporary progressive society in Qatar, and other Arab states.

    I am looking forward to visiting Doha one day, and enjoying an evening of beautiful jazz in addition to other cultural events that your capital has to offer,
    Because it is about time for everyone to have access to culture in his own contry regardless of age, sex, religious beliefs, or appearance.

  9. Greg

    I feel this article brings to light a very important issue of Qatari society. Fatima does a very good job of pointing out the ironic nature of her experience and relating it to the question of how Doha will incorporate a global identity with its own heritage.

  10. Zarqa P

    It is refreshing and inspiring to see an young, ambitious and intellectual woman like you, voicing your opinion in such a constructive manner. I comprehend the arguments that you’ve made and denying you the entry to an event you have been looking forward to was not justified. I hope that your points and concerns are taken into full consideration to avoid such incidences in future.

  11. Rehnuma

    Reading the reactions above has me in awe.

    Clearly, some of the readers (yes, calling the people above out) need to reread this.

    Fatima was affected by this policy, why would her “target” be Qatari women?

    “Whoring themselves out”?

    “So why embarrass your self from the first place and put your self in such a situation when we all know that these events does not target Qataries in general”?

    I am overwhelmed by the lack of respect, sexism, and paternalism that is suggested in the commentary.

    Although I do not have a strong grasp of the Qatari social norm, I can only assume that it is heavily influenced by a patriarchal society. Why else would a woman be denied access to a venue? Would the same have been done for a man? Unlikely.

    Calling this piece a “rant” or suggesting it is not well written, takes away it’s value, and what I believe to be the initial intention of the piece: To shed light on an obvious gender/sex based policy and express a personal frustration.

  12. The real courage belongs to the person in the ring fighting – not to the anonymous spectators hackling in the stadium.

  13. Lynne


    As a woman, and South African, discrimination burns me up. The idea that in your own country, as an adult, anyone could restrict your movements and in such an inconsistent way seems outdated.

    I don’t necessarily agree with Terry’s view that your article is merely a rant, but I also question your use of this website as a forum and wonder what your article could possibly mean to accomplish.

    And then I also want to echo Terry’s comment …”how can we begin a debate about women’s rights before we even begin to talk about basic human rights?”

    However, I wish you luck in your fight and in your activism for the right of Qatari women to equitable treatment.

  14. Paula

    I completely disagree with this comment: “how can we begin a debate about women’s rights before we even begin to talk about basic human rights?”

    Women’s rights ARE human rights. Women’s rights and dignity should not be put on the back burner until other so-called “more pressing” rights issues (and I’m presuming the commentator means more predominantly male issues) are dealt with.

    So many people (primarily men) think that women’s rights can wait. That happened in Egypt after the Arab Spring, it happened in Afghanistan, it happens everywhere. But that assumption is dead wrong. Women make up 50% of the world’s population. They are not a special interest group. They are half of the world’s population. They suffer far more than men every day in terms of violations of their basic rights. Women’s rights MUST come first!

    Fatima, this is a well written post. It was thoughtful, engaging and unlike others apparently in the comments section, I thought your thesis was clear and obvious (ignore Terry, he doesn’t know what he’s talking and can barely write a coherent sentence himself). You should be proud of yourself. Qatari women do not deserve to discriminated against in any way and treated as second-class citizens.
    It’s crazy that Qatari women are so much better educated, responsible and ambitious about their futures than men. Yet they are continue to be treated like children. Why are men given so much more freedom? I am glad you wrote this post, Fatima. Qatari women know these policies are unfair and I’m glad locals are now beginning to speak out about it.

  15. Aakash Jayaprakash

    This is a well written and thought provoking piece. While a lot of the world might be asking questions about how Qatar treats non- citizens, this account exposes us to how it treats it’s own citizens. While this rule may be considered the “social norm”, why is it so difficult for a Qatari woman to enjoy jazz in her own country? This simple question with a complex answer should make us all think twice.

    Qatari women’s rights are the same as any human rights. A national woman isn’t allowed to enter a 5 star hotels to view a jazz performance. It’s because it makes some people uncomfortable. A non- national male isn’t allows to enter a local mall to do some shopping. It’s because it makes some people uncomfortable.

    Uncanny parallels from different worlds.

  16. SG

    You go, girl! Well said! Good for you for bringing attention to this discriminatory practice. It takes a lot of guts, A LOT of guts, for a Qatari woman to write something like this. Ms. Fatima should be commended for her courage. Keep fighting!!

  17. You where trying to go to a bar not a event venue.
    Its sad that only bars are hosting this kind of events.

    Alamdulillah you were stopped at the entrance.

    About the national dress I agreed it should not be allowed. Its a way to protect Qatari culture and Islam as well from more hate.
    To the eyes of the rest of the world, some one wearing a thobe or abaya is automatically tagged as practicing muslim, even if in some cases this in not true.

    I see this “laws” as protective towards gulf/islamic culture rather than discriminatory.
    My advice is you should stay away from this places, but …if thats impossible for you, just follow the dress code, no abaya and no hijab.
    I strongly encourage the first option. 🙂

    Peace be to you all.

    • Qatar76

      It’s not a bar! it’s a jazz club you dine and watch live jazz performance you don’t know anything about it so please go search the main one is at new york and its open for all ages and people can wear what ever the want like women can wear a black dress covered all her body and hijab.. google it!

      • Qatar76

        whatever they*

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