With reporting from Heba Fahmy
Several nurseries in Qatar have canceled children’s festive concerts at the last minute this week following a directive from Qatar authorities reminding them not to hold “non-Islamic rituals.”
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA), which licenses and regulates nursery schools in Qatar, sent a circular in Arabic on Tuesday, Dec. 8 to the owners of day care establishments with the title “Celebration of non-Islamic rituals.”
The two-page memo, which came from the ministry’s Family Development Department, highlighted what authorities said were some of the obligations nurseries have toward their children.
It referenced Article 1 of the Constitution, which defines Qatar as being an Arab state that practices the religion Islam and is primarily governed by Shari’a law.
It also cited Article 22, which according to the legal portal Al Meezan states:
“The State shall provide care for the young and protect them from corruption, exploitation, and the evils of physical, mental and spiritual neglect. The State shall also create circumstances conducive to the development of their abilities in all fields based on a sound education.”
Finally, the memo highlighted Article 2 of the 2014 law regulating the activities of nursery schools, which states that daycares should provide “the appropriate conditions for the development of their skills and talents in various fields using a scientific education system” for their enrolled pre-school children.
According to that law, one of the responsibilities of nurseries is also to “instill moral and religious values in the minds of children.”
The ministry’s memo concluded:
“Therefore it is prohibited on all nurseries to celebrate with non-Islamic rituals as it violates the constitution of Qatar and violates the rules of the …law no. 1 of the year 2014.”
The memo was sent to daycares to clarify the law, and no nurseries were punished, a MOLSA representative said in a statement to Doha News.
In response to the memo, several nurseries in Qatar have taken the precaution of cancelling Christmas-related activities, including children’s concerts that were scheduled to take place this week.
Starfish Lane Kids’ nurseries were due to hold end-of-year concerts yesterday and today, which the children and staff had been preparing to present to parents.
However, after receiving the ministry’s memo, the decision was taken to cancel the concerts, managing partner Kimberley Sheedy told Doha News.
Busy Bees British Nursery has also revised some of its plans for the week in light of the new directive.
Although manager Nadene Shameem said the nursery had not scheduled a concert this year, she still questioned the decision taken by the ministry. In a statement to Doha News, she said:
“It was very disappointing to receive the new ruling from the (ministry) with regards to celebrating ‘non-Islamic rituals.’ As a nursery, it is our responsibility to educate a child in all areas of development and that includes teaching them inclusiveness and diversity, and fostering acceptance and understanding.
But learning about other cultures and their celebrations, a child’s development, knowledge and understanding of the outside world can only expand their minds.”
Fun First nursery in West Bay has also cancelled festive events that were set to take place today.
In a statement posted yesterday on its website and Facebook page, the nursery told parents, “we want to inform you that we have to cancel our Christmas/Winter Party that was due to take place this coming Thursday.”
The nursery had reportedly previously planned to host what it billed as a “Christmas party,” which was set to include a visit from Santa Claus and presents for children.
However its celebrations drew the attention of Qatari media commentator Faisal Marzouki, who criticized the event on Twitter.
Posting a notice from the nursery that said parents who did not want their children to take part in the celebrations should keep the children at home on that day, Marzouki tagged MOLSA and asked in Arabic: “What is the opinion of the Ministry of Labor? A kindergarten celebrates bringing Santa to the children, and offering children who do not, not to attend.”
The ministry responded to Marzouki several times on Twitter, saying the situation was being investigated, then that the event had been cancelled, as it was considered to violate the Qatari constitution and the nursery law.
Marzouki’s tweet attracted significant interest, with dozens of people tweeting him their thanks.
Although Qatar is a Muslim country, it is home to hundreds of thousands of Christians, and has a designated religious complex outside central Doha where a number of church buildings are located.
Ahead of Christmas, many stores and hotels around the country have been getting into the festive spirit with displays and events.
However, there has been tension over the public celebration of the holiday in the past.
Last year for example, the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) sent a directive to all hotels stating that celebrations should focus on Qatar National Day (Dec. 18), rather than Christmas.
While some establishments did hold festive tree lighting ceremonies in early December last year, the trees were then taken down or covered over until after that holiday.
This year, while many hotels still have trees and other festive decorations prominently displayed in their lobbies, QTA issued a public statement aimed at ensuring National Day is suitably represented:
“As part of celebrations QTA will collaborate with hotels to ensure the spirit of Qatar National Day is shared with the country’s visitors and tourists. Hotel establishments are encouraged to decorate their rooms and reception areas in maroon and white, and to ask their staff to dress in national dress,” the statement said.