Qatari National Identity
Nations across the globe project their identity with pride, but what exactly is national identity?
National identity is a positive social construction - we, the collective of our individual countries, align our identities to the perceived attributes of our specific nation. It may be based on our history, our traditions, culture or language, our ideology and values, even our characteristics, behaviours, achievements and past-times.
To align ourselves with our nation's identity gives us a sense of who we are, a sense of belonging. It draws on our commonality and brings us together to support shared goals.
Universally, we create national symbols, such as flags, emblems and mascots, to embody and represent that identity. It’s something we can use to demonstrate our belonging and sense of shared pride.
Something we also do with the football teams we support! Go Qatar….
The National Flag
A national flag represents and symbolises its country, and its citizens, it distinguishes it from other nations and is used to denote ownership and power.
National flags are generally designed to mirror a nation and its citizen’s attributes and to signify its history or significant past events.
National flags are used to identify, but also to evoke feelings of pride and unity in a nation’s citizens.
The National Flag of Qatar is a source of great pride to its people - representing the country's independence. But, how much do we know about it?
Describe the Qatari National Flag?
The National Flag is made up of two colours, white and maroon. It is, as are the majority of national flags, a rectangular shape with an aspect ratio (height to width) of 11:28.
The white, on the hoist side of the flag, is separated from the maroon colour by a serrated line with nine white points.
What is the history behind the creation of the National Flag?
Qatar’s National Flag, in its current white and maroon form, was officially adopted shortly before 1971 and the country’s declaration of independence from Britain.
Originally red to correspond with the red banner traditionally used by Kharjite Muslims, the flag's transition to today’s version began in the late 19th Century. Under a directive from the British, a white strip was added on the hoist side of the flag - presumably to indicate a truce, against piracy along the coast, established between the British and the region’s rulers. Under the rule of Sheikh Mohammed bin Thani, who ruled from 1847-1876, a purple-red colour and a pattern were adopted. In 1932, the flag was adapted to include the word ‘Qatar’ in Arabic across the maroon section and several diamonds in the white section. In 1949, the maroon colour became official. Then in the 1960s, Sheikh Ali bin Abdullah Al Thani, ruler of Qatar from 1949-1960, removed the 1932 additions leaving today’s well-loved version.
What does the National Flag symbolise?
The maroon colour of Qatar’s flag was only standardised in 1949. Previously, the flag had been red, red and white, and crimson. Popular narratives suggest that, under the rule of Mohammed bin Thani, it was decreed that the flag should be a red-purple colour to signify the countries past purple dye industry. Historically, Qatar was well-known for its purple dye production using shellfish. However, accounts highlight the effect of the sun on the original red colouring of the flag - the exposed flag would lose its colour and turn a crimson/brown; hence the adoption of the red-purple, then maroon colourings.
The flag’s colour, however it came to be maroon, is deeply embedded in Qatar’s heritage and culture. From its Islamic beginnings, its connections to the country’s trade and industry, to its relationship to past rulers of the nation, the colours embody the country’s history right up to its independence.
The nine-pointed, serrated edge that divides the white and maroon of the flag also holds historical significance. The nine points were added in 1916 to signify Qatar as the 9th member of the Trucial Coast Convention - a protective treaty signed with the British Government. The treaty ensured Qatari territory could only be ceded to the British in return for which the nation recieved protection from all aggression by sea and support in case of a land attack. Qatar remained a British protectorate until independence was declared in 1971.
National emblems are used in addition to a national flag to act as a symbol of the nation it represents.
The national emblem of Qatar is actually a coat of arms and was introduced in 1976.
What is the national emblem of Qatar?
The emblem of Qatar depicts two curved scimitar swords crossed in an upwards fashion in a yellow circle. Inside the swords, sailing on blue and white waves, is a dhow boat beside an island with two palm trees. The yellow circle is surrounded by a circular depiction of the Qatar flag - white at the top and maroon at the bottom. Inside the white band in black writing is the Kufic* script for Qatar. Inside the maroon band the words, ‘State of Qatar’ are written in white.
The Emblem of Qatar was crafted and developed by Fouad Alshebini in 1976.
What is the significance of the emblem?
Qatar’s national emblem is representative of the Middle East and Arab nations, as well as to Qatar.
The depiction of the nation’s flag distinguishes the country, whilst the use of Kufic script recognises its Arab roots. The yellow circle symbolises the desert landscape, the sea and the dhow sailing boat making reference to the nation’s coast and seafaring past. The palm trees epitomise the nation’s vitality, growth and prosperity, whilst the crossed scimitars, blade of the Middle East, are symbolic of Islam.
The emblem is, of course, representative of Qatar, but also of its shared heritage and faith.
National animals are chosen by countries as a symbol that represents the nation's values and characteristics. Generally, they are chosen with reference to their attributes, and/or their place in the country’s tradition, culture or mythology.
The Arabian Oryx is the national animal of Qatar, and also of Jordan, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Why is the Oryx Qatar’s national animal?
The Arabian Oryx is a species of antelope that lived for centuries along the length of the Arabian Peninsula. Traditionally the Bedouins hunted the Oryx for its meat and hide.
Eventually, with the advent of firearms and motorised vehicles, and hunting for pleasure, the Arabian Oryx was declared extinct in the wild (1972). Conservation efforts since that time, and a reintroduction programme in the 1980s, brought the Oryx back to Qatar and the Peninsula. This phenomenal effort by conservationists made the Oryx the first animal to revert its status to ‘vulnerable’ from ‘extinct in the wild’.
As a species, the Arabian Oryx is known for its ability to adapt to the inhospitable desert environment. Resting during the heat of the day, in shaded depressions they dig in the ground, the Oryx walks for great distances during the cooler hours to find food and water. It has an uncanny ability to detect rainfall from a great distance, which it moves towards in search of fresh growing plants. When water is scarce, the Oryx can sustain themselves with the water from the dew drops that form on the surface of plants.
They also, unlike their antelope cousins, live peacefully in mixed herds of up to 100 individuals.
So, why is the Oryx the national animal of Qatar? Most obviously, it is an enduring part of Qatari heritage, sustaining their ancestors for centuries in a harsh environment that had limited water or sources of food. But, the Arabian Oryx is also a symbol of peace, adaptability, endurance and resilience. Qatari’s throughout their short history as a nation, have endured and adapted to their harsh environment, and their circumstances in times of economic decline or regional dispute. They have shown resilience in their ability to rise-up and succeed through adversity. And, above all, they are a peace-loving nation - they are ranked as one of the most peaceful in the region.
It is no wonder then that the Arabian Oryx is prized as the national animal or used as a mascot to represent the country. Indeed, the Oryx was the mascot for the 2006 Asian Games, and it is currently one of the mascots for the country’s national carrier, Qatar Airways.
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