pt 2 Teaching in Qatar: Principal’s Office to the Police Station

Tell me: Did I put my foot in my mouth?

I worked in the Secondary school and the girls were required to offer salaah at a certain time of day and there was a musalaah for them. But many of them preferred to use the time to socialize with their friends, so they would rush through their salaah to get the free time. This made the prayer lines look all crazy and disorganized some girls in ruku’ and others in sujood all standing in the same line. They were really hard to control. One day when I was on ‘prayer duty’ I got sick of it and I shouted at them.
I told them this is the way that the Shi’aa (Shi’ites) pray; in a confusing way.
Well, have you ever heard the term ‘you put your foot in your mouth’?  Right after I made my comments some girls ran up to me upset, “Miss Nadiya why did you talk about Shia, they are our friends! You made some of the girls cry! ” The next day I was told me to meet the Mudeerah in the Social worker’s office. The Social Worker was a large Lebanese woman who wore ebaya over her clothes with no head covering.  She had a deep slow voice, “Miss Nadiya what you said is very hard… you know my mother actually is a Shia’ and my Dad is Sunni.” Ya Allah!” my head dropped and I wanted to disappear. My heart started racing. “You should not teach religious beliefs just moral values. This is better,” she instructed me.  She’s the social worker! What was she talking about? I teach Islamic studies and that includes Aqueedah.  Had she even SEEN the Islamic studies books issued from the government??  I looked at my Mudeerah to enlighten this woman. My Mudeerah was seriously Sunniya, her dress code, the way she talked the way she taught;  she mastered all the subjects of Islamic studies and Quran taught in the department. I had deep respect for her level. I expected more from her in that moment, but all she did was give me a nervous smile.  Am I sorry for what I said? Well, I can’t apologize for my beliefs but I did not intend to shock anyone or make anyone cry. And although I don’t have any ill will toward Shia people,  I do invite them to the Sunnah.

A couple days later, the Principal worte me an email, “I would like the opportunity to speak with you.” The Principal (the 4th one that school year) was a British Pakistani woman. “You made inflammatory statements we don’t tolerate that here. “  Did she think she was back in England? I wondered if I was the only English speaker in the school who had ever read the Islamic studies books.


When living as a foreigner in the Arab Gulf, or anywhere, it is very important to maintain your legal status; keep your ‘iqaama’ (residence visa) valid. I was working so I had mine but my daughter’s iqaama was delayed. I had to get special permission to sponsor her since her father wasn’t in Qatar yet and then the paperwork went back and forth a few times and between trips down to the Jawazaat (passport) office and flying out every 2 months for a tourist visa. At last! All the paperwork was finally filed.  I stopped flying out and I thought everything was fine. AFter the 5 month process I went back to Jawazaat office presented everything and I was told: As soon as you pay the 20,000 Riyal fine, you can sponsor her. What!? While waiting for the process a ‘graama’  (fine) increased by 200 Riyals a day on her passport, and a ban was put on my own passport.

The Police Called and said, “Give Us Vernell!”

Vernell is my birth name. It’s a good name. It was the name of my great-grandmother. It means green and flourishing. I was giving a class with my students when the H.R. lady called me on my cell. “Vernell!”I  heard this urgent almost whisper on the phone, “The Police called they want you NOW. Leave everything and go to al-Bahath wal Mutaab’iah!” I didn’t even know what was Bahath wal Mutaab’iah but I knew it wasn’t good. I knew I was in deep trouble. I left my class and went in a taxi. The taxi driver took me around in circles a couple of times, not knowing exactly where to take me. I told him the name of the department I needed but he didn’t speak Arabic, so he couldn’t understand. Finally, I saw the name on the building from far away and I pointed to it, “There it is!” I said.  Although he didn’t know Arabic (he was Indian) and couldn’t understand the sign, he eyes got wide when I pointed to the building. He asked, ” you wanna go there? But Madame,… that’s the jail! “

My heart was beating out of my chest as I went through the security check full of men. I didn’t know what to expect. I was ushered to the front of the line.  The building was surprisingly classy, lovely carpets and pure white walls with Arabian motifs. I passed a waiting room where Qataris were waiting to submit reports about runaway maids. I had to go upstairs to one of the head policeman. Surprisingly the policemen were polite “You’re American, and Muslim?” That’s always a discussion. I told them how I misunderstood about the rules, why I had the fine. Then I asked,  “So, do I really have to pay it?” The  policeman smiled at me very kindly and said, “yes, you do.”

I told him that I didn’t have the money and he said I should borrow it from the bank. I said I would try. I did try and I was denied the loan. Remember I was living as an American on an Egyptian’s salary. My rent to was too high, the bank lady said.  About 2 weeks later, the H.R. lady called me again in the middle of my class. “Vernell! The Police just called. They want you NOW. Go and leave everything.” Again I left my students and off I went. Again they wanted to talk about how I was going to pay the fine. I had no clue. They let me go again.
The next call I got from H.R. was for a meeting in the Principals office between myself, my Mudeerah, the Principal, and the H.R. lady. The Police Dept had called the Head of the Boys School. If I couldn’t pay, the school would be charged. Every one in the room wanted to ring my neck.

After that meeting I went home a nervous wreck. It was getting close to summer break time to travel, but I had a ban on my passport.  I decided to write a letter in Arabic about how I got the fines and how I misunderstood the rules. I wasn’t sure who to give it to at first. I will just say Allah ta’alaa guided me to the right person who helped me and instead of paying 20,000 I only had to pay 2,500. That’s all to be said about that. It happens that way sometime. They call it ‘waasitah’ someone to intercede on your behalf, talk to the authorities for you. Some people might call it unfair advantage. I call it a mercy from Allah AND it beats going to jail.


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Us-tatha Nadiya Johnson

I help put Arabic language on the tongues of Muslim families in the West. I provide learning materials, curriculum and consulting for Homeschoolers, Islamic schools and Weekend Learning Programs.

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