Doha, Qatar – In 2002, football fans who visited Japan and South Korea for the World Cup were introduced to the hand fans.
Eight years later, vuvuzelas were introduced to the world by South Africa.
This year, Qatari national Khalifa Naimi hopes to put a new spin on the traditional headscarf, the ghutra, for a major impact on football fans descending on his home pitch for the 2022 World Cup.
Most days, the 26-year-old is hurriedly busy in his “Ghutra Mundo” store, tucked away in a corner of the Souq Waqif metro station in the capital Doha.
Business is booming as millions of fans from around the world flock to the Gulf for the first tournament to be held in the Middle East. Some scarves from his store and others even appear in the stadiums during matches.
But for Naimi, sales are just one aspect of the job. His main focus now is on educating football fans about a culture he is incredibly proud of, he says.
“The ghutra is a great unifying symbol that is part of our national dress,” Naimi tells Al Jazeera. “To teach and show the world that Qataris are hospitable and participate and share in our culture, the ghutra is a great symbol of hospitality”.
All the flags of the 32 World Cup qualifying teams are affixed to the ghutra. Naimi also offers custom thobes (traditional ankle-length robe) and prayer beads.
‘Part of our personality’
Products imbued with regional identity can sometimes be a hard sell for some who may view it as trivializing the culture, Naimi said.
But he says he’s received mostly positive feedback from locals and fans alike, even though he’s aware of an ongoing debate between conservative and progressive elements in his community.
“What we are trying to do is something to help Qatar and the Arab region in a positive way,” he said.
As customers quickly gather for a football game in store, Naimi makes sure they personalize their experience by explaining the modest outfits of both men and women in the region.
He shows off different ways of wearing the ghutra, especially his go-to style – the “cobra”.
This interaction with global football fans to put them at ease about wearing the ghutra is important, he says, because of the thin line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation.
“I hope my product brings joy and informs people about Qatari and Arab culture as a whole,” said Naimi. “This is not just a Qatar issue, it is in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and around the Middle East. it is part of our personality. I want people to come for the Word Cup and leave with our culture.”
For many clients, including Jouad from Morocco, this is their first dive into Qatari culture. “I’ve never tried Qatari culture, this is the first time I’ve tried it and I’ve lived in Qatar for 10 years,” says Jouad from Morocco. “When you see the Moroccan team and the people here, you feel proud, especially of Arab land here for the first time. I feel like I’m at home, in the capital of Morocco”
Ashraf, a native of Singapore who is a proud owner of a Brazilian-colored ghutra, says you can’t really get the full World Cup experience without rocking the scarf. “[It’s] just like going to Brazil, wearing all the fancy costumes of Rio… it reinforces the culture,” he said.
Tunisian fan Belgacem agreed and tried on a ghutra while his wife smiled and took pictures.
“I buy it [the ghutra] as a souvenir,” he said. “When I go back to my country, I will remember this great event and celebrate my presence here.”
With the tournament in full swing, Naimi is proud of his job and beaming with patriotic pride, even though he misses live matches during the tournament.
“It means the world to host this tournament in Qatar,” he told Al Jazeera. “This is the time we show the world how we shine. Qatar may be small in size, but it is big in acts and hopefully this tournament will show that.”