Shoomilah, Shoomilah: Rise of Qatar’s unofficial football anthem

Doha, Qatar – A little-known word became a rousing anthem of national pride, first for a country under a regional diplomatic boycott in 2017 and again when Qatar, against all odds, won the Asian Cup football tournament in 2019.

Shomelah, Shomelah didn’t originate on the pitch, but that didn’t stop them from becoming the unofficial anthem of the Qatar national football team.

Using the language of courtship as a metaphor to describe a relationship of support and admiration between a nation and its leader, the song immediately captured hearts and minds in Qatar. It played everywhere, even at weddings.

Shoomilah (to strive after) is an ancient Arabic expression used in more recent tradition to advise young women of marriageable age to choose the best warrior as their suitor.

The song first gained notoriety on December 18, 2017, when Qatar celebrated its first national day after its neighbors Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain announced blockades.

On June 5 of the same year, the four countries severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar and imposed a sea, land and air blockade, in which they claimed Qatar supported “terrorism” and was too close to its rival Iran. Qatar denied the allegations.

The blockade lasted more than three years, during which defiant expressions proliferated in Qatar, motivating poet and lyricist Ayedh bin Ghidah, who said he wanted to “provide a metaphorical response to the attacks on Qatar — which attempted to damage Qatari loyalty.” to question their leadership – during the blockade”.

His lyrics urged a metaphorical woman “with beautiful eyelashes” to “aspire to the swordsman, a true sheikh whose attitude pleases those around him” who “is special from a young age” and whose “actions show his persistence”.

The Mystery of Shoomilah

The meaning of Shomilah was a mystery to many.

“I had heard of it but wasn’t sure of its exact meaning… it’s not used much,” said Sabah Al Kuwari, then general manager of Al Rayyan TV, which oversaw the production.

“It’s mostly elders who use it,” Al Kuwari told Al Jazeera Arabic in 2019 for the documentary Songs of the Gulf, adding that he liked the song from the start, but when he played it to someone, “they said : ‘I’m putting it on’ “I don’t think you should be producing or promoting it because it’s not going to be a hit.”

Bin Ghidah, who started writing poetry in elementary school, said when he shared the piece “some people said the lyrics were too stiff” but he felt they were “going to be mysterious and intriguing”.

Ugly scenes of fan riots erupted in the 2019 Asian Cup semi-final in Qatar against hosts UAE as water bottles and shoes were thrown at Qatari players from the crowd [Giuseppe CACACE / AFP]

“People keep asking me about the meaning of Shoomilah to this day,” bin Ghidah told Al Jazeera.

“It means ‘strive after him.’ It is a powerful image of the Qatari nation rising to the occasion and showing loyalty and support to their leader amid the blockade.”

In the mind of the lyricist, the Emir is “steadfast…shows unshakable will”.

“We are the supporters of his rule and we are his army. We bow to him. Tell him your people have sworn allegiance to you. Tell him,” they say.

In Songs of the Gulf, bin Ghidah clarified that the word, while uncommon today, is “part of our tradition, environment and language”.

It came from Nabati Arabic poetry, he said, referring to a native Bedouin style that diverged from classical Arabic.

exceed limits

When Qatar won their first Asian Cup in 2019, Shoomilah, Shoomilah crossed borders and enjoyed growing popularity, particularly in Kuwait and Oman, neutral countries in the Gulf crisis.

Some fans said they liked Kuwaiti singer Ibrahim Dashti’s energetic version with its intricate percussion, while others were drawn to Yemeni singer Maria Qahtan’s rendition.

Instagram influencer Zahra Al Ansari told Al Jazeera the song inspired a “feeling of pride”. [of] to be a Qatari”.

HR specialist Ghaliya Al Baker likened the anthem to a “logo” like Tamim Al Majd, but set to music.

She was referring to the famous silhouette of Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, which became a familiar sight as Qataris and residents displayed it on cars, shop windows, walls and more during the boycott to show their support and national pride.

“It’s a good song to represent Qatar and its football team worldwide,” said Al Baker.

Qatar beat Japan 3-1 in the 2019 Asian Cup final [File: Roslan RAHMAN / AFP]

So how did Shoomilah, Shoomilah come to be associated with The Annabi, Qatar national team?

In 2019, the story goes, Qatar national team players sang it in their dressing room on January 29 after beating UAE in the Asian Cup semifinals in Abu Dhabi, urging the cup to choose the right candidates.

A Video of the team’s chant was shared on Twitter a few days later, on the day of the final against Japan.

Shoomilah, Shoomilah was played by one of the players for the team, according to Thomas Ross Griffin, author of Homeland: National Identity Performance in the Qatar National Team, a chapter in the book Football in the Middle East.

The player told Griffin, “I made a deal with my teammates…before we start the game, we put on Shoomilah to motivate us and also to celebrate after the game.”

Even players who couldn’t understand all the lyrics, Griffin noted in the book, felt that this gave the team “increasing power to represent Qatar”.

The Qataris believe the song will remain their football anthem and encourage their players to win.

Last year, about 60,000 people gathered and sang at Al Bayt Stadium after Qatar beat Bahrain 1-0 in the opening match of the FIFA Arab Cup.

On November 20, Qatar will make their World Cup debut as hosts, taking on Ecuador at the same stadium. Shoomilah, Shoomilah will be the rallying cry heard from the galleries as fans urge the Maroons to give it their all.

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