Purpose – The Islamic banking sector has been growing rapidly, particularly in the Gulf region. The purpose of this paper is to examine major barriers to service quality in Islamic banks in Qatar and the impact of demographic variables on the perceptions of these barriers. Design/methodology/approach – A questionnaire based on the existing literature and particularly on the obstacles outlined by Jabnoun and the constructs influencing service quality gaps found by Parasuraman is developed and distributed to employees of Islamic banks in Qatar. Factor analysis is used to determine the dimensions of the questionnaire. One-sample t-test is then used to determine which of the resulting dimensions are significant barriers to service quality. Finally, one-way ANOVA is used is to determine the impact of demographic variables on the perceptions of the barriers. Findings – Factor analysis resulted in four dimensions: three of these dimensions, namely, lack of empowerment, centralization, and lack of transformational leadership, were found to be significant barriers to service quality in Islamic banks in Qatar while the “No” culture was not found to be significant. Expatriates perceived lack of empowerment to be a greater barrier to service quality than nationals did. This may be explained by the high power distance among nationals. Research limitations/implications – Conducting the study in more than one industry and more than one country would be desirable to determine common barriers to service quality. Practical implications – Islamic banking has been growing steadily. Islamic banks currently operate in approximately 75 countries. This paper highlights barriers to service quality in Islamic banks in Qatar and provides practical recommendations to overcome these barriers. These recommendations can be useful to Islamic banks in general. The barriers found in this study happen to be related to the culture of power distance. The recommendations presented in this paper can therefore be useful in different service organizations where the culture of power distance is dominant. Originality/value – This paper outlines barriers to service quality in Islamic banks in Qatar. These barriers are relevant to Islamic banks in other parts of the world, particularly in the Arab world. This paper contributes to the scant literature on barriers to service quality. It also suggests important future research on the relationship between barriers to service quality and national culture. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.