In the hot arid climate of the Middle East, where the desert oasis and the coast are essential to life, it is not surprising that cooling water and shade are essential elements of garden design. Whilst the outside walls of the traditional Islamic house have a solid and closed appearance, internally the plan is usually based around a shaded courtyard. Water is probably the most important element of Islamic Garden Design and is associated with wealth and fertility.

The verdant, shady inner courtyard of a Mamluk Townhouse, Cairo. 

Garden in Morrocco 

Gardens, flowing water, pools and fountains are likewise important elements in the Qur’anic descriptions of paradise. Mohammad in describing his journey to heaven describes 4 rivers, flowing with wine, milk, honey and water. This is transcribed into Garden design as the chahar-bagh or the four-fold garden, which typically has a central fountain or pool from which flow 4 rivers representing the 4 main elements of life. Islamic gardens are a place for spiritual contemplation and physical relaxation. The person who creates such a garden is showing their desire to attain the highest spiritual enlightenment.

Garden in Granada

In opulent buildings the water may continue to run through the rooms themselves, either as simple channels emphasizing axes or fountains, larger pools and cascades that would create not only a cool indoor microclimate but also add soothing sounds and ever changing patterns in reflections of light

Court of the Lions, Granada

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Happy Burns day!!

Its the 25th of January and it’s “Rabbie” Burns day in Scotland

for everyone in Qatar here is a wee scots poem from the great man himself, enjoy

To A Mouse.
On turning her up in her nest with the plough, November 1785.

Robert Burns was a poet, but that was not what earned him his living. As with most artists of his time he had to have some means of earning his keep. In Burns’ case he earned most of his money, sparse though this was, from farming. This is why he is also known as the “Ploughman Bard”. It was while he was ploughing one of his fields that he disturbed a mouse’s nest. It was his thoughts on what he had done that led to his poem, “To A Mouse”, which contains one of his most often quoted lines from the poem. I am sure that you will recognize it, probably not from the Scottish words, but from the translation, lines 4 and 5 from verse 7.

Burns Original

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty
Wi bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murdering pattle.

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth born companion
An’ fellow mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
‘S a sma’ request;
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
An’ never miss’t.

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s win’s ensuin,
Baith snell an’ keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary winter comin fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro’ thy cell.

That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turned out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld.

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still thou are blest, compared wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

and in English

Small, sleek, cowering, timorous beast,
O, what a panic is in your breast!
You need not start away so hasty
With hurrying scamper!
I would be loath to run and chase you,
With murdering plough-staff.

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
And justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth born companion
And fellow mortal!

I doubt not, sometimes, but you may steal;
What then? Poor beast, you must live!
An odd ear in twenty-four sheaves
Is a small request;
I will get a blessing with what is left,
And never miss it.

Your small house, too, in ruin!
It’s feeble walls the winds are scattering!
And nothing now, to build a new one,
Of coarse grass green!
And bleak December’s winds coming,
Both bitter and keen!

You saw the fields laid bare and wasted,
And weary winter coming fast,
And cozy here, beneath the blast,
You thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel plough past
Out through your cell.

That small bit heap of leaves and stubble,
Has cost you many a weary nibble!
Now you are turned out, for all your trouble,
Without house or holding,
To endure the winter’s sleety dribble,
And hoar-frost cold.

But Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leaves us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Still you are blest, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects dreary!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!

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Qatar has undergone such dramatic changes within less than the span of one lifetime, it begs the question from where do we gain our sense of cultural identity? Is it static; ‘the past and social tradition’ or dynamic; ‘a vision of future aspirations and goals’ or some mixture of the two? Does that very perception change with age, sex, background or social position?

Can we, as members of a very different culture, even begin to answer those questions of Qatar?

We therefore need to ask you, how do the people of Qatar view their own culture? What is most important to you? What do you feel about the changes Qatar is going through? What changes do you want to see in the future?

In the hope that you might be able to answer these questions for us, we have prepared a short questionnaire. You can find this under the tab ‘Cultural Identity Probe’ or if you prefer here is the word document:


Could you fill this in yourselves, but also ask a mix of friends and family to do likewise so we can get an overall view of what you, the people of Qatar, think. You could either post your responses on your blog, or if you would prefer more anonymity email them to us at


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The Qatar Foundation was founded by His Highness the Amir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, within the year he over thrown his father in a bloodless coup to gain control over Qatar in 1995. His wife, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, was made chairperson of the foundation and is considered the driving force to the foundation.

The vision of the foundation is to run a  non profit indipendant and private organisation that will aim to develop abilities of the Qatari people and help improve them for an ever changing world. There will be centers of excellence which develop people’s abilities through investments in human capital. State of the art facilities to encourage innovative technologies and working with partnerships and elite organisations. The Qatar National Vision 2030, was published in 2008 and outlines a plan to make their country, a modern knowledge based economy funded by revenues from hydrocarbon resources, in keeping with an ever changing world. in essence, as their quote says ” Unlocking Human Potential”.

The 3 Pillars.

The three pillars are Education, Science & Research and Community Development. these are considered to be key to unlocking the human potential in developing not only Qatar, but the rest of the world.

The Qatar foundation has a world wide outreach to help raise awareness through clever advertising, using sponsorship with Barcelona Football Club, one of the biggest clubs in the world.  They have also got global attraction with acquiring several american university’s to branch out into Qatar. and the introduction of big named businesses and banks into setting up in Qatar.

the Qatar Foundation website:

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‘Rich is good, obviously, but to be cultured, well, that’s something else . . .’

The aspiration is to develop Qatar not just as a Cultural Capital of the Middle East, but as a centre renowned throughout the World.

The Qataris have spent a lot of money acquiring major works by eminent artists from around the world and commissioning famous architects to build their new public buildings. Their ambition however is not to just have a fabulous Art collection but to be the recognised centre for education, archaeology and conservation and through this shared cultural heritage and expertise develop deeper bonds with other Islamic countries. The head of the museum authority Sheika Al Mayassa is the 28 year old daughter of the Emir.

The Museum of Islamic Art, designed by I M Pei, was inspired by the washing fountain (sabi) at the Mosque of Ahmed ibn Tulun in Cairo. Islamic architecture is known for its precision and geometric purity of line and form, which is well expressed in the strong light and shadows, as well as vivid geometric patterns and colours. (see the banner for external view!)

The Museum of Islamic Art is built on a man-made island.

Strong geometric pattern and form of the skylight at the Museum of Islamic Art

Minimalist Lines and Traditional Islamic Detailing, with the Skyline of Doha behind.

‘7’ by Richard Serra.

Mathaf, The Arab Museum of Modern Art.

The Mathaf shows Traditional Geometric Islamic Detailing.

The National Museum of Qatar (completion date 2014), designed by Jean Nouvel was inspired by the desert rose crystal formations. It aims to celebrate and record the history of the Qatari way of life.

The existing National Museum of Qatar built in 1901.

The proposed model, showing the relationship between old and new.

The Photography  Museum, by Santiago Calatrava.

There is also a lively art scene in Doha and small growing group of contemporary regional artists (eg Farah Daham, Yousef Ahmad, Ali Hassan, Salman Al Malik) whose work are available at the independent Al Markhiya Gallery in Souk Waqif. Souk Waquf is the place many families spend their evenings, eating, shopping or enjoying outdoor music and movies. Although it has every appearance of an original Souk it too was built only a few years ago!



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Although an absolute Monarch, the Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani has been slowly moving Qatar towards democracy since he deposed his father in 1995. He is both politically astute and a liberal reformer – perhaps more so than the general populace. Women have been able to vote and stand for political office since 1999 and the first national legislative elections will be held in 2013.

Surrounded by large and powerful countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia the main aim of his Foreign Policy is to keep Qatar safe. Despite the small size of Qatar, the Emir is a major and respected political player in the Middle East. He has successfully maintained good relations with Iran and the USA, as well as Hezbollah, Hamas and Israel. He has also brokered peace agreements throughout the region.

Soon after he came to power the Emir set up Al-Jezeera, the Qatar’s satellite TV News Network. Government owned but essentially free from censorship, unlike most TV networks in the region, it is outspoken on sensitive issues. It has played a major role in the Arab Spring, to the dismay of neighbouring countries! When the Arab League asked the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, Qatar, alone in the region, sent warplanes as support and arms to the anti-Gaddaffi forces.

The wealth oil and gas has given Qatar is reinvested in its indigenous population. There is a comprehensive welfare state with free education, health care, guaranteed employment and no income tax. His long-term domestic policy is based on building a sustainable future for his country, after the Oil and Gas has run out. The vision is to make Qatar the Cultural and Educational Capital of the Region.

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Identity Crisis?

Under going research into Qatar, we have looked at an interesting contrast from what Qatar was only a mere half century ago till now. In 2004 the population was recorded at just over 800,000 people and now that has boomed up to 1.7 million in 2010, and it is interesting to learn that only 10% of this population is Qatari, the rest being made up of expats, with the inviting opportunities the oil industry has offered in Qatar. “the region didn’t appear from nowhere because of oil” New York Times article. It is also suggested that there could be up to 80 different nationalities residing in Qatar just to show the complete mix of cultures within a nation only holding 1.7 million. generally speaking it is good to mix cultures and diversify a country but there is a fear that a nation with only 10% being actual Qatari, is that they are loosing there identity.

Doah seems to be “designed by architects who didn’t talk with each other, like each other, and engaged in experiments which they would never get away with at home” CBS 60 min. I myself believe that these buildings look like alien stilts randomly plotted into the desert sand. I think this also shows Qatar’s willingness to bring in and invite great projects but im not sure there is much thought and care to the previous life in Qatar. A fellow student  also pointed out, after doing a web search of traditional Qatari buildings, the result comes up with what scans the landscape today. so this poises the question is tradition starting now? What is Qatar? Maybe this is what Qatar wants and that their culture wants to progress with a modern attitude, after all the world is forever changing.

references – New York Times article

CBS 60 min –

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