(EDITOR'S NOTE: Keyser High School teacher Susan Hamilton was able to travel to Qatar and Oman as part of a professional/cultural exchange grant program, and promised to keep her students and our readers informed by writing periodic accounts of her trip. This is the 12th installment.)

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Keyser High School teacher Susan Hamilton was able to travel to Qatar and Oman as part of a professional/cultural exchange grant program, and promised to keep her students and our readers informed by writing periodic accounts of her trip. This is the 12th installment.)

By Susan Hamilton
The other really interesting tour we participated in on this trip was to Al Jazeera News.
To visit Al Jazeera news studios we needed a special security clearance. This meant a background check for everyone in the group. It was a similar procedure to the one I had to submit to in order to take students though the White House last year. The only difference was they needed copies of our passports in advance.
Al Jazeera also has multiple levels of gate security one has to pass through in order to tour the facility. Our bus was entered and searched, if we had been in a car, the car doors were opened and visually searched, including the trunk. The gate guards carried AK-47s. On one hand, it makes a person feel very safe entering a place with this level of security, but it does take some getting used to because of the weapons the guards carry so casually over their shoulders.
Our group was really excited for this tour. It’s not everyday one gets to visit a highly acclaimed international news organization. The Al Jazeera studios are state of the art. They have some of the most advanced video and editing equipment in the world. Al Jazeera Arabic has the largest video wall in the world at 18.5 meters (a little over 60 feet). All of the cameras are controlled from a gallery control center in another room. The table at which the anchor sits has a mirror embedded at an angle. This allows the anchor to see what is on the video wall behind him or her in order to ensure they are reporting on the right story at the right time.
Al Jazeera specializes in world news and broadcasts in English and Arabic around the world, but does try to target segments to their audiences.  They also provide documentary, under cover expose,  and focused news programs.  
Everyone in our group had an opportunity to sit at the news desk because they weren’t filming live when we were in the Arabic speaking news studio. In the English studio we were able to watch the live news broadcast.
Al Jazeera is considered the most important news platform in the Arab world. They began in 1996, and now have five channels. One of those channels is live and very similar to CSPAN, another is a documentary channel. They are a 24 hours news organization, which is what the other three channels consist of.  
As I mentioned earlier, Al Jazeera produces content specifically for each audience they have and for each social media platform they participate in. They cover the same news stories for all, but if their market research indicates that viewers in Great Britain, for example, are more interested in a story about Brexit than viewers in Egypt, they will tailor the coverage of the event for each audience. So Egypt might get a 60-second story about Brexit, while the audience in Great Britain gets a two minute story.
Al Jazeera America launched in 2013 and closed in 2016. It didn’t work here because the American audiences were already too polarized between CNN and Fox News for them to be successful.
Al Shaqab is an equestrian center dedicated to promoting the highest standards in the breeding and showing of Arabian horses. The idea and vision for this facility was that of His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalid Al Thani. The Arabian horse has been important in the Arab world for centuries. The breeding facility for Al Shaqab is located on the grounds a pivotal battle by the Bedouin people of this region against the Otoomans, a battle which ultimately led to Qatar’s independence. The center is also named after this battle: Al Sahqab, in ancient times, the name of this region. The guiding principles of the center are Excellence, Education and Heritage.
While touring the equestrian center we were shown the equestrian ring used for local and world competitions. We witnessed some horses receiving physical and hydro therapy, and we saw many youth equestrian programs in progress. Some of the younger boys were showing off their dressage skills for us until they got scolded by their instructor.
This center houses and trains the Qatar endurance riding team and their horses. Community member and schools may use Al Shaqab for horseback riding lessons. They also provide workshops on horse anatomy and physiology and how to tack up a horse.
Last year, I visited a world class Arabian breeding and riding farm in Ocala, Florida. It was an interesting comparison for me. The farm in Florida sells a lot of stallions to buyers in the Middle East, so they must be doing something right. I doubt that Al Shaqab buys from the farm I toured though because they are trying to maintain impeccable historical bloodlines of Egyptian and Arabian horses.
We visited two mosques in Qatar: the Katara Village Mosque and the State Mosque. They each looked very different from the ones we visited in Oman, but also from each other. Domes and minarets are features we became accustomed to seeing in Oman. This is how we identified buildings that were mosques. What we learned from one of the Imams here is that domes and minarets are not a requirement in the architecture of a mosque, and if the architect chooses to include them, there is no required number of either.  Shoes are removed before entering the prayer rooms, not because the Qu’ran says they must be, but for the more practical reason of minimizing dirt stains, and wear and tear on the carpet.
During prayers, each row in the mosque is filled before another one is started. This ensures that no one disturbs the prayers of another if they enter a little late. Every mosque has a cupola, often the most lavish part of the prayer room. The cupola is always placed in the direction of Mecca so the people know they are facing the correct direction. Prayers take place five times a day. There are special words one says at these times, but prayer time is meant to be a time of stopping to reflect. Generally men and women practice prayer in the same way. Ablation, or cleaning the skin before entering the mosque, is meant to be a physical representation of the washing away of sins. The hands, arms, feet, face, and head are cleaned. Women do not typically attend prayer at the mosque during their menstruation, or while they are still bleeding after childbirth. During these times they pray at home, and if necessary for spiritual guidance, an Imam will visit them outside of the mosque. This is not meant to embarrass the women, but rather to provide them with privacy at these times.
At first, I was curious about how people are able to stop what they’re doing and go to the mosque and pray five times a day. I remember thinking  to myself: ‘I would never get anything done.” I quickly learned that there are small mosques everywhere. A person would never have to walk more that a few hundred yards to find a small mosque in which to pray. They may of course also pray where they are. Since the construction of the Grand Mosque, the Emir has asked the small mosques to close on Friday and Saturday. The grand Mosque holds about 12,000 people. The Emir wants this it to be a place of community.
Community is a natural and important part of religious worship, especially for those who are alone in life, and for the elderly. I believe that is something all religious worship has in common. Whether you are a believer or not, churches, mosques and synagogues  encourage a sense of community for their members. In the mosques of Qatar and Oman, like the churches of Keyser, WV, this is one of the things that brings people together and provides a common bond. The religious community almost becomes an extended family: people who genuinely care about you and miss you when you aren’t there.
I was planning on ending our journey with this article, but I sill have so much I need to say about customs and etiquette. Achmed, our guide in Oman would say, “Yallah Susan,” which means quickly, but I think it’s important to provide you with as complete a picture as possible of Arab culture: that was after all the whole purpose of this trip. My job was to learn as much as possible while I was there and share that information with my students and community to foster understanding. There will be one more segment to this series focusing on culture, etiquette, and my reflection on the experience.