Doha: As the clock struck noon, muezzins throughout Qatar summoned Muslim soccer players, fans, and officials to the first Friday prayers of the first World Cup to be held in a Muslim country.
They gathered for the weekly congregational prayer, which many Muslims believe is obligatory, at the Ibrahim al-Khalil Mosque in Doha's West Bay, with its towering minaret and carved wooden doors.
Fans from Tunisia, Oman, and India were among the faithful, as were a uniformed FIFA official, children dressed in French soccer kits, and hundreds of men and women from nearby hotels and tower blocks.
Stadiums with prayer rooms, concessions selling halal food, and no beer-swilling fans to contend with in the stands due to an alcohol ban, Muslim fans say Qatar's World Cup has accommodated them like never before,
"I am in an Islamic country to attend Friday prayers... This is what makes me happy during this competition," a Moroccan visiting fan, said.
He, like the rest of the worshippers, removed his shoes and filed into the mosque's main prayer hall.
Islam has been featured throughout the first week of the tournament, with the tournament starting with a recitation of the Koran, Islam's holy book, at the opening ceremony and English translations of the prophet Mohammad's sayings and teachings posted around Doha.
While Muslims attending games in Qatar may have a better fan experience than in the past, it is unclear whether the World Cup will change things for them in the long run.
"Early indications suggest that there is a conflation of criticism of Qatar and actual hostility toward Muslims," said Imran Awan, a criminology professor at Birmingham City University who is looking for signs of a shift in public opinion by examining patterns of Islamophobia both online and offline.
Some countries competing in the 32-team tournament have criticised Qatar for its record on migrant workers, women, and its stand against the LGBTQ community.
For the time being, Muslim fans are simply enjoying an event that caters to their needs.
An avid South African soccer fan is accustomed to having to leave the grounds in order to find a prayer space, including during South Africa's 2010 World Cup.
"This World Cup seems tailor-made for me; it works for me, it fits me... It is the first of its kind," according to the fan.
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