Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Kuwait City’

Easter in Ahmadi

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 7th April, 2012

As a Muslim country, Kuwait does not acknowledge Easter, but the state’s constitution recognises the freedom to practise religion, so the more than 300,000 Christians in the country can go to the masses and other Holy Week services at the Catholic cathedral in Kuwait city or at various other churches and house worship groups in the capital or in the oil town of  Ahmadi. Only around 200 or 300 Kuwaitis are Christian, believed to be the descendants of people who came to the area from northerly parts of the Ottoman Empire more than a century agao, but now completely assimilated. But in more recent times it has not been possible for a non-Muslim to be naturalised as a Kuwaiti; in fact, naturalisation is very difficult in general, unless someone has roots in the area dating back generations. That contrasts with the situation in Bahrain — the only other state in the Gulf that has a small community of indigenous Christians — which does offer naturalisation to some foreigners who settle there long-term, though that is not often a straightforward process. So the vast majority — 99.9% — of Christians in Kuwait are foreigners, the biggest communities coming from the Philippines, India and other South Asian countries. The Catholic church in Ahmadi, where I am staying, has been offering Easter masses in English, Tagalog and several Indian languages and other church communities, including a small group of Anglicans, have made their own celebrations. Only Islam is taught in Kuwaiti schools, however, and when a member of the ruling family recently suggested that the Armenian community should be able to open a new church here, she was told firmly by the religious authorities to stay out of affairs that should not be her concern. Christian evangelisation is strictly forbidden and as in much of the Islamic world, apostasy is a serious offence for Muslims in Kuwait. Christians are hardly likely to complain about that, however, as they know they are far better off here, in being allowed to worship in dedicated places, unlike over the border in Saudi Arabia.

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Doha’s Souq Waqif

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 26th December, 2008

souq-waqif-stamp      Too many cities in the Arabian Gulf have swept away their heritage on the principle ‘Out with the old, in with the new!’ As a result,  places like Kuwait City have almost no worthwhile heritage left. But Qatar’s capital, Doha, is an exception. The central Souq Waqif was in a pretty sorry state 20 years ago, but rather than being knocked down, it has been sensitively restored, enlarged and enhanced. The main throughfare has been pedestrianised and is lined with small shops, shisha cafes, Western coffee shops and a whole series of restaurants with tables outside. This attractive scene naturally draws many tourists, but interestingly the majority of people wandering around in the evening, or sitting smoking a water-pipe, are Arabs.

One of the souq’s larger buildings has even been turned into Doha’s first boutique hotel, the newly-opened Hotel Souq Waqif, which has 13 deluxe bedrooms and suites furnished in a mixture of antique and contemporary Oriental styles with notable works of art from India. The hotel has a fine seafood restaurant, too. But anyone fancying a truly Orientalist experience should also check out the Persian restaurant in the souq — a gloriously over-the-top mirrored covered courtyard which features a fountain and pool in which melons and pomegranates float, while cute staff in David Roberts-style 19th century Iranian servants’ clothes dish out authentic Persian cuisine to Arab families seated on the floor in individual alcoves.

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