Islamic design
menu for this section of the site
Society 06
menu for notes relating to this section on Islamic design

Background to the characteristics of tribal badu

Badu horsemen in the desert, 1973

There are notes on the background to the inhabitants of the peninsula on a number of pages of these notes. Generally those notes relate to the more recent developments in the settlement of the peninsula – and by this I’m really referring to the last two hundred years or so. Because of this it seems sensible to add a little more on the background of badu society. The reason for this is that the badu constitute in the minds of many Qataris, an extremely significant socio-cultural element of their society, one against which many judgements are made. There remains a romantic view of these nomadic warriors whose origins and traditions are still held to represent not just elements of common histories but the embodiment of codes of ethical and moral behaviour that are respected, and might be emulated today. However, these histories are not as simplistic as are commonly understood in the West.

The manner in which badu society was structured and operated developed over centuries and owes much to the harsh physical environment in which they lived, together with their need to co-exist with the larger states that surrounded and constrained them. This witnessed the development of a society founded in kinship and in which the larger tribes were seen, and saw themselves, as having an ’asiil or noble character, one that established them as naturally prominent in the hierarchies of badu society. Around this were developed a number of mechanisms to maintain this hierarchy.

A group of badu on racing camels, 1974

One of the chief characteristics or activities of ’asiil groups was in their raiding for the acquisition of camels. This activity has been extremely important in maintaining dominance within desert societies. In fact, without raiding, the wealth of a badu family must naturally diminish with time, suggesting the need to find excuses to raid – if none is immediately apparent. For it is camel ownership and breeding that is central to a badawi’s place in his society. The structures generated through this have to be understood in order to have a standard against which socio-cultural issues are being affected today.

The character of these ’asiil groups is not similar to the hierarchical aristocracies with which we are more familiar, but are marked by the extent and ownership of their camel herds. The owning of large numbers of camels marks the major tribes and families. Those who do not own significant numbers of camels but who own more sheep and goats, those who shepherd their animals near oases or who live as blacksmiths, are seen to be subservient to badu society and must either pay tribute or provide services in order to live with a degree of protection.

Because these nomadic tribes are not, or do not govern, states their interrelationships and the execution of their powers depend on their chiefs or leaders, these being informally elected, this being understood as their being primus inter pares. These tribes are comprised of a number of smaller clan groups, their chiefs related patrilineally. This allows the flexibility for the tribe to move into their sparse grazing lands in increasingly fragmenting groups – the smallest of which being that of a family.

The annual cycle of movement of the badu is governed by natural phenomena, the herds needing to have water and pasturage. Poor cycles of weather may require the herds to be moved further, perhaps to areas governed by other tribes from whom permission may have to be obtained to use their dirah. Alternatively, good weather may increase the herds’ size beyond the pasturing capacity of the tribe’s dirah, requiring similar negotiation, or even force.

more to be written…

go to top of page

The holy month of Ramadhan and ’eid al-fitr

An entrance door decorated with an ’eid greeting

As noted elsewhere there are five basic tenets in Islam, but here it might be useful to add a note about the social effects witnessed during the month and at its ending with the ’eid al-fitr holiday. This photograph, taken some time after the event when the associated decorations had faded, shows the entrance to a house rented by expatriate workers from Pakistan on each side of which they have written ’eid mubarak, the traditional greeting made at that time. It illustrates something of the sense of festivity that marks that time of the Muslim year.

Although the holy month of Ramadhan places a variety of impositions on practising Muslims, the observable effect within the society by non-Muslims is not particularly one of hardship but of enjoyment. There are certainly difficulties as those having to work will not eat or drink during daylight hours, a practice that imposes considerable stresses on those who have to work outside, more so when the holy month falls within the hotter months of the year.

The obligations placed on Muslims by sawm is that nothing shall be eaten or drunk, nor shall there be sexual relations between the hours of dawn and sunset during the holy month. The rationale for this is simple: fasting is a time for reflection, contemplation and the worship of God during which time there is the presumption that the individual will benefit from self-imposed discipline and will become more considerate of those less fortunate than themselves.

People gathering for the distribution of zakaat

One of the products of the disciplines of contemplation and introspection can result in one of the other tenets of Islam being fulfilled, zakaat, the giving of alms to the poor and needy. This photograph was taken in Doha’s suq waqf during the early 1970s and shows a large group, mainly women, gathering for the distribution to them of sadaqah al-fitr by one of the major merchants. Customarily this is a charitable gift which may take the form of rice and staple foodstuffs, and is donated during the last week of Ramadhan in order that those in need will be able to prepare meals at eid al-fitr for their family and friends. This is a relatively small gift and does not count towards the zakaat obligation.

During daytime hours life slows and the business of government and the private sector mirrors this even though many of those working within the peninsula will not be Muslims. They, too, are not allowed to eat or drink in places where they may be observed, though there is a general presumption that they will be able to do so within the privacy of their own homes or offices. However, many non-Muslims take the opportunity to mirror the fasting of Muslims for a number of reasons, some practical, some self-imposed.

The meal that breaks the fast every day has become a significant event. Usually attended by family it might also be extended to a number of guests. Following the meal people will go out and see friends, shop and generally enjoy themselves. This feeling of celebration will continue over much of the evening and into the night for many people. Some will stay awake all night, or get up early, in order to take a last meal prior to the time when fasting must start again at the beginning of the adhaan for the fajr prayer. In order to be able to last the day some will take the opportunity to sleep during much of the day, a particularly useful way of maintaining the fast for those whose health is not what it might be.

But there is considerable self-imposed pressure placed on individuals to fast, despite there being some categories who do not have to. At its simplest children prior to puberty, the elderly, those chronically ill and the mentally ill, nursing mothers, menstruating and pregnant women as well as those travelling may be exempt, though there is an obligation on some of these categories to feed the poor or to fast on other days to compensate for the number of days of fasting missed during the holy month.

The gun marking the end of fasting being fired

At the end of each day of ramadhan it is the practice in Doha for the army to bring one of their field guns down to the Corniche and fire it to mark the official end of daylight and the beginnings of the night’s activities. Immediately prior to this there is usually a lull preceded by considerable activity on the roads as men drive to pick up the last of the food needed for the breaking of the fast as well as getting home in order to be there when the gun goes off and iftaar begins. It is not a good time to be on the roads.

The end of the holy month is marked by the three-day ’eid al-fitr holiday, whose first day is the first day of the month of shawwaal, and which is celebrated in much the same way as is described above, only to a greater extent. It is particularly a time for the wider family to get together, to see each other, telephone those abroad, and to enjoy meals and the giving and receiving of gifts. There are likely to be special events staged by the private sector and government such as sea races, and there is an air of festivity that permeates the whole peninsula.

go to top of page


Musicians on a float in the 1980s

The importance of music in the peninsula is difficult to exaggerate. As many of these pages emphasise, there is very little material of cultural importance left in the peninsula, whether this is architecture, textiles or pottery. So it is not unusual that many look back to the simpler life they and their ancestors led in the region with a significant degree of nostalgia but with an inability for physical association. Music has the ability to bridge this gap, enabling and reinforcing the rhythms and tunes of the two main groups in the peninsula, those associated with the sea and the badu. This historical retrospection is an important element in the creation of national imperatives and has seen the government develop systematic collections of sources and their performance.

However, the chief difficulty is that the music of the peninsula and its different presentations and performances no longer exist in their original contexts but are being distilled, choreographed and performed in a variety of situations having little or nothing to do with their original developments and raisons d’être.

more to be written…

go to top of page

External influence

A traditional ardha

As an aside to my comment on traditional dances for a minute, it is notable that some of the dances used to promote Qatar in the burgeoning tourist industry are based on music and costume that have no basis in the peninsula but appear to me to be Egyptian. I’m told this is also true of some the music. I don’t know if this has something to do with a desire to demonstrate a pan-Arabic character, but it’s sad that the traditional dances, particularly the baduardha and razeef, and the fishermen’s dances might have been codified with standard dress, dance and music. I don’t know if the tambura has been affected, but doubt if the genuine event will be.

I should explain that the ardha is really the original war dance but is said to have become a dance of peace upon the unification of Saudi Arabia. As such it represents the majority of folkloric dancing that you might see at events in Qatar. It should also be noted that in some parts of the Gulf the ardha is the name given to the two lines of men chanting to or at each other in a competitive or challenging fashion as mentioned immediately below; the razeef being the dancing element that accompany or follows it. However, my experience is that Qataris seem to refer to the dance as a razeef so, I’ll call it that here.

There are many Qataris, both young and old, who enjoy their traditional music, and I know it is played privately by them, often on Thursdays and Fridays. In this way it is passed on from generation to generation. But new works continue to be written and performed at the same time that other influences take a hold on the younger generations. I am not able to say to what extent poetry and music continue in the old traditions or are developed along new lines but from observation many of the younger generations play and enjoy music from Egypt, Jordan and the Lebanon as well as from other areas of the Arab world, Europe and north America. Some Qataris also play the ’oud privately for enjoyment, though I believe this music is not generally traditional to the peninsula or the Gulf.

Music, poetry and dance are interwoven in the traditions of both the peninsula as well as the hinterland from which they derive. This forms the basis of most of the folkloric events that continue and are developing in Qatar, and seems to be influenced by many of the pressures I have noted elsewhere.

At its simplest, the music of the peninsula can broadly be thought to consist of music relating to the sea and to the desert.

go to top of page

Pearling music

Drummer and pearlers in the 1960s – developed from a video on YouTube

Just as the peninsula was used by the badu moving their animals to take advantage of seasonal benefits, the seas around it were the province for millennia of those trading, fishing and pearling. The craft using the seaways were powered by the wind and, when necessary, oars. Sails and anchors require teams of men to hoist and lower them, while the use of oars benefit from being operated in unison. From these simple requirements a variety of songs with associated rhythmic accompaniment developed in order to ease the burdens imposed by these tasks.

Rhythmic songs came about to accompany these activities over a long period of time and are likely to have originated outside the Gulf as merchants moved through it carrying their cargoes to the trading ports along and, particularly, at its head. The loading and unloading of cargoes would be associated with one type of song or chant and, at sea, other chants developed with the need to raise sails by hauling lines in unison, lifting a heavy anchor or to row for long periods of time efficiently. For this work a nahham was employed on pearling craft.

His job was not just to lead the songs, he was the translator of the orders of the naakhuda to the crew. Similar to Western sea shanties the songs or chants developed locally each emerging to suit the different tasks. Those accompanying physical work tend to have short, rhythmic cycles while those sung for entertainment were based on stories common in the region. The songs would be accompanied, often, with a drummer as illustrated above, and by rhythmic hand-clapping, the latter requiring skill to produce the hard, dry sound preferred by Qataris. The singing, clapping and associated body movement differs dependent upon the action which is being aided. These would accompany work such as:

  • pulling the rope from the anchorage,
  • the beginning of rowing,
  • hoisting the small sail, and
  • hoisting the large sail.

Bear in mind that there was and, to some extent, still remains a strong verbal tradition in the region. A little more is written about this on another of the Society pages.

Not only would he assist the efforts associated with the physical work, but he would also entertain when the crew were resting. The songs based on stories were known as fijiri, the name deriving from, or being associated with the name fijr – dawn or daybreak, suggesting that it may also have been used first thing in the morning to begin the day’s activities.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the songs sung were not just about the work which had to be carried out – the reason for their being at sea – but also related to the effect their long periods at sea had on them and their families. So love, patience and fate were elements of the music sung by or to those at sea. An example of this character of song is this:

ya khuy maani btayyib
min shogi lel hibayyib
dar al hibayyib khadoha
ughsun galbi ra’oha
wesh hilti west ’azabi
haza al muqaddar ’alayya

and which, translated into English reads:

Oh! brother, I am not feeling well.
I suffer because of passionate love.
They have taken away my beloved’s house.
Making my heart like grazing field.
Oh! woe. I live in agony.
Alas! I am helpless. This is my fate.

While the nahham was employed to lead the pearlers going about their business, he would also provide the lead when the pearlers met onshore at a dar in order to relax and enjoy their shared community.

One other type of singer was employed at sea, and that was the imkabbis who commonly sang on the long distance trading ships, often using the ’oud to accompany himself.

go to top of page

The razeef

Badu trucks gathered for a razeef Badu on camels and al na’ashat and al radhahorses

The razeef is considered by most of the visitors to the peninsula as something of a touristic event, but its importance is far more profound than that. The events at which it is performed are social occasions whose origins lie in the tribal societies that made their home in the peninsula and the Arabian hinterland. The meetings have a number of functions and can be thought to be at least political, strategic, social and entertaining. In the first photograph one of the tribes, from memory I think the al-Dosari, has gathered in 1973 to celebrate the accession of Sheikh Khalifa a year previously, for the most part arriving on their pickups. In addition to this, a number of riders on horse and camel also attended. The following brief note is chiefly based on that and subsequent years when tribes gathered to show allegiance, performing the razeef as an important and highly visible element of the event. The photos come from different events.

The razeef is the commonly heard way of referring to the war dance. However, the more accurate name is probably the ardha, the more generic name for the dances that preceded battles when past glories were remembered and accompanied by men singing. With wars ended, the ardha is performed at weddings and other important occasions. The term razeef really relates to the sword dance, though it is said that, nowadays, its verbal form takes precedence.

Friends talking

Nowadays, the most overt reasons for holding a razeef relate to the traditional political need to display association and loyalty. But the event is also an extremely important setting for a variety of formal and informal meetings where family matters can be discussed and decisions made on political issues, marriages and the like. In the first photograph time is being taken by three men to renew acquaintanceships while the women and children wait.

Families gathered to watch the dancing

Many of the families who come to these events will have travelled from the nearby outskirts of Doha and Rayyan as well as from the north and south of the peninsula, travelling on buses provided by the State. But most of the families arrived in their cars and pickups with a few of the men making the trip by horse or camel, in the more traditional way. Due to the importance of these festivities to the main tribes, some of the families will have travelled from the Saudi hinterland or other Gulf states in order to participate individually and on behalf of their tribe, and will stay a few days.

Two women watch the dancing

In this photograph two women, dressed for the occasion, unusually watch the dancing from the front of the audience. The bataateel they wear suggest that they might not be badu, but are from an urban family. While it is the men of the tribe who dance and sing, there are dances where women participate though I have never seen them at a razeef. The na’ashat and radha are the most common, the former is characterised by the women sweeping their hair rhythmically to the beat of the music and is common to badu traditions; the latter is a processional performance associated with weddings.

Families gathered at a small razeef

It is considered important that families are able to hold a razeef when they can. In this sense it is a mark of prestige for the family to do so, whatever the size of the event. In this photograph a small celebration has been organised, perhaps by a qabila. The singing is under way, a small group of boys are watching, and a group of girls are sitting and playing on the left, apparently with little interest in the proceedings. It has a rather domestic feel to it in contrast with the larger events.

The tent with coffee brewing

Tents were erected for those who intended to remain for the length of the event. In them members of the tribe and their guests sat and met and entertained as well as sleeping in them overnight. All this was very much in the traditional badu manner. This was, in effect, a long drawn-out majlis. In this first photograph guests can be seen sitting in the tent with the coffee kitchen in operation in the right foreground.

Badu with a range of items to sell

In addition to the establishment of areas for meeting and sleeping, a number of activities appeared supporting those attending these events. In this photograph a group of badu have a small range of simple goods for sale, the type of items that are necessary for day to day living of the badu, not the kind of artefact for which there might be the possibility of selling to tourists. This was not perceived to be a touristic or commercial event.

A group of dancers and singers preparing themselves Two chorus lines and musicians Drummers moving in unison at a razeef

Here, in front of the tent the men of the tribe come together to begin their dances. As I mentioned above, there is some confusion in terminology between the ardha and the razeef. This is further complicated by the name given in some parts of the Gulf for a war dance, the ayyala or, more specifically, the harbia. While the ayyala has developed into a dance of welcome for dignitaries, the similar, harbia, is still associated with celebrating victory in war or battle. Note in this photograph that there are a few non-Qataris mixed in with those watching. The men who will sing are sorting themselves out on each side of the space. The lower photograph, taken at a different event, shows how the two choruses arrange themselves with the musicians moving between them, and each group having a leader to direct the words and timing of the chorus. These lyrics can be extempore and even scatalogical.

The last of these three photographs illustrates something of the energy of the drummers as they move, bending in unison, to the beat of their drums. The photograph was taken at the same razeef as that above in 1984, but is of a different type of musical group, one that includes a habaan, as is shown in a little more detail below. I believe this group to be more typical of the fishing communities, that above it of the badu.

National flags flying at dusk at a razeef The national flag at a razeef Men preparing to dance at a razeef Drums and guns at a razeef

Each of these celebratory events, many of which took place at the same time but on land with a tribal association, were attended by hundreds of people who included not only members of the tribes, but also those with close or traditional links to that particular tribe, guests, friends as well as those with an interest in witnessing what had to be a relatively rare event.

You will see in the accompanying photographs that the events are celebrated only by men, although women will accompany their menfolk and stand or sit away from the dancing, as seen above, sometimes with their girls. But boys are rarely seen sitting out from these events unless they are really young; they are encouraged to participate in the dancing as this is in line with the general principle of bringing boys up to manhood, boys accompanying their fathers to the majlis and even to business meetings from an early age.

A number of people had come from outside the country as the tribes have links and associations across the Arabian peninsula. While a core of people remained camped at each location over the period of the celebration, members of the tribes as well as others moved between the different locations, again a form of travelling majlis distributing information and news between the different groups and, importantly, continuing the traditional and political contacts that enable the tribal society to maintain a degree of balance and stability and, hence, the peninsula.

As an aside, it is interesting to speculate on how the spread of mobile telephones will have affected this system. But an important element of this movement was not just the cross-transference of information and news, but the rationale behind the razeef itself as a formal operation to demonstrate and reinforce loyalties.

Dancers in a razeef Dancers in a razeef Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad al Thani Dancers at a razeef A dancer carrying an old revolver Rifles being swung in the dance Decorated scabbards

These events have a very specific feel to those who participate and view them as their essential character is of armed men making demonstrations of their fealty. In this group of photographs the dancers can be seen wearing bandoliers and carrying guns of different ages or swords in a typical display of martial strength and loyalty to the Ruler, who in this respect, is representing both himself and the country.

In the third of this group of photographs, the Ruler who had come to power in 1972, Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad al Thani, can be seen taking part in one of the ceremonies – I think it was that of the al-Attiyah with whom the al-Thani have a traditionally strong bond. During this period he visited every one of the encampments of the tribes, dancing with them as a natural part of their celebrations.

These and other photographs in this section illustrate something of the predominately martial character of the events, and of those of participating at them. It is not military in the sense that these men are soldiers as many of them would normally have been leading normal, peaceful lives.

But these are patently badu and can be seen as the descendants of those who would have been part of the irregular forces brought together in times of dispute and disagreement and who would have fought to preserve the perceived rights of those they supported. Here they are demonstrating a real attachment to their tribe, country and Ruler. It has to be borne in mind that as recently as the 1950s, perhaps only two generations ago, men like these were raiding towards the Liwa oasis in what is now Abu Dhabi.

In these photographs you can see the dancers with a typical collection of the weaponry carried by badurashash, saif and khanjar. But while these may have been the weapons of choice hundreds of years ago, along with spears or lances, guns and rifles were soon introduced having a dramatic impact on desert warfare.

In the fifth photograph, there appears to be the powerful six-chambered .45 Webley revolver, standard issue to British forces and, below it a number of rifles are being swung in time to the rhythms of the drums. It is difficult to identify their type in this photograph but many were Lee-Enfield .303s from both World Wars and I suspect there were other types which would have changed hands during the Turkish occupation. It is not possible to say how many of them were in good working order.

A gold-plated gun

But not all weapons were old. There were a small number of Kalashnikovs as well as some weapons which had been specially customised. In this example the exposed metalwork on this gun had been gold plated and I have seen many other similar examples which were not intended to be decorative, and where the weapon was perceived primarily as functional piece of equipment.

A badu with bandoliers sheathing his sword

The lowest photograph in this group shows a badu sheathing his sword in its scabbard and wearing over his thub a very typical arrangement of belt and crossed bandoliers. This appears to be one of the more decorative examples and not particularly functional. I have seen them filled with an assortment of bullets and cartridges, some not corresponding with the weapons carried.

The chorus of a razeef

The photographs above tend to concentrate on the dancers. Here is a photograph of one side of the chorus line. The razeef is essentially a war dance where two lines of men, facing each other, chant in response to a single person leading them in an eight-bar refrain. Between them men show themselves with their weapons in a slow moving, individualist display, usually of support but, I’m told, in the past of aggression, perhaps more like the ardha. The call and response from the lines of men can be powerful and can also be funny and insulting to their enemies.

A drummer in action

The drums are the most important element of the razeef as there is no tune to carry, while the rhythm is important to pace the dancers who use the whole of their bodies to move in time with their beat. Although the tara or duff is held in one hand and struck with the other, the tubal is suspended from the shoulder and struck with either a length of heavy rubber insulated cable or, as in this case, with a length of wood.

Drummers tuning their instruments

One of the main instruments that are a feature of the razeef is the tara, a number of them being shown here being tuned by their drummers using the heat of an open fire. Tuned is, perhaps, not the correct word, essentially they are being tightened to create a tighter skin and a crisper noise, a character which is also sought when hands are clapped in rhythm.

Drums being warmed in front of a fire

In the photograph above you can see that the drums are plain with no decoration. Here, the two nearest tara both have the name of one of the al-Dosari qabila written on them in an informal style. This suggests that the drums belong to a regular group who performed together. It is interesting to see that the tara on the left has a freehand floral pattern drawn on it.

Three drummers

By contrast these three drummers, photographed on a stage, are each holding a tara which have, painted on them, the name of their group – lu’lu’, or ‘pearl’ – complete with their telephone number. I realise there is a need for advertising but it does look a little strange to see what happens in certain circumstances when tradition meets the modern world. I’m sure there must be a better way of doing this.

Before leaving the subject of the razeef, it would be useful to include a note on two other musical instruments that I have seen used at them, but which are relatively unusual.

A mijwiz being played at a razeef

This first photograph is of a man playing twin pipes. Taken at razeef in 1973, it shows him playing what I believe is a mijwiz. That was the only time I have seen that particular instrument being played at a razeef and was told that it was a tradition common to that particular tribe, the al-Dosari. I am not sure if the performer called it by that name, but I believe that is the name commonly given it in the Middle East.

A habaan being played at a razeef A habaan being played at a razeef A detail of the chanter on a habaan

The other unusual instrument being played at a razeef is illustrated in this set of photographs which were taken on feriq al-Salata at one of the annual celebrations held in February 1984, the habaan.

The habaan is a wind instrument of the bagpipe family, this version being common to the southern Gulf. The Qatari instrument shown here is droneless but has a double chanter, similar to the qirba or jirba that is used in Bahrein generally by those of Iranian descent, and itself similar to the nay anbaan common to the area around Bushir in Iran and from which is is evidently derived.

The instrument is made by taking a cured goatskin, inverting it, cutting most of the legs off and sealing them while inserting a mouthpiece in one as well as the chanter. The notes of its characteristic thin reedy sound are created by laying the central pads of the fingers across the double tuning holes. Unlike many other types of bagpipe, its construction from an animal skin requires it to be held in front of the body rather than under one arm, both forearms being used to provide pressure to the air bag. The double pipes can just be glimpsed in the detail of the lowest of the three photographs.

A zurna being played at a razeef

While I have not seen this wind instrument being used, I am placing it here as the photograph was found in a small book published by the government in 1988, from which this illustration was copied. I believe the instrument is known as a zurna, though I have not yet been able to get confirmation. My understanding is that the instrument is more common to the north of the region and in Iran, its name being derived from Farsi – but it may originally have found its way to the peninsula with the Turkish occupation. It is possible that the instrument might be referred to as a mizmar, though I believe this to be a more generic name for a double-reeded conical wind instrument.

These next two photographs, of a uniformed troupe, show the modern face of traditional music in Qatar. It’s possible that it may be the same group playing at an indoor event, and in Doha’s newly reconstructed suq, on whose architecture I have written notes on the Islamic urban design pages and on the touristic policies governing it further here and elsewhere in these notes.

A traditional music group on stage A traditional music group in Doha’s suq

I should say in defence of the musicians that there are many who support their old traditions and I understand a small number of individuals still wish to learn to play the different instruments. This is a cultural issue and in many families there is the tradition of passing on the skills and music from father to son. Nowadays, of course, there is more competition for pursuits which might be considered leisure even though, in their earlier employment, they would not have been seen as leisure but as a continuation of normal socio-cultural activities. But times have changed and the fora in which musicians traditionally plied their profession have disappeared or have significantly altered with the pressures of modern life and foreign influences. Some musicians still meet to rehearse and pass on their music to others, but there is also a commercial element in that they are hired for official and private functions, the latter appearing to require advertising as witnessed by the photo in the preceding paragraph. It seems to be the latter initiative which has commercialised and codified their dress and I can’t say it looks right. Hopefully their music will remain traditional in concept if not in origin, even though I know there are northern influences coming in with the introduction of musical ‘experts’ who, with the best will in the world will have an influence both in the music as well as the way in which it is presented.

Drums being tuned by warming over a fire

Finally, a reminder of the past. This photograph was taken in the desert in the early nineteen seventies and shows an earlier generation of drummers, each with his tara, tuning their instruments in the traditional manner, by warming them over an open fire. Having said that, I have a feeling that there might have been writing on the older drums, though there wouldn’t have been the telephone numbers…

Cymbals being played at a razeef Cymbals being played at a razeef

While the musical instruments used at razafaat are normally limited to drums – which seem to suit what is, in essence, a martial event – sometimes there are instruments that are not usually seen, such as the mijwiz and habaan illustrated above. But I have also seen saajaat used on at least three separate occasions, two of them shown here. They were relatively small, ranging in diameter from 100mm to 150mm, and were linked together by a short cord. At this size, and in the open, I had originally thought they would have little effect, but that was not the case. From observation I had the impression that they were being used to conduct the drummers. Whether or not this is the case I can’t say, but it was certainly possible for the drummers to hear the saajaat, and the men operating them were in the best place for them to lead the drummers.

Cymbals being played at a razeef

There is a long history to the use of saajaat and it is not possible to suggest how and when they became a part of the razeef. It is evident that they would have to be imported but whether this might under the influence of the Ottomans or the Indian sub-continent seems impossible to determine. A guess might be that the Ottomans, during their period of residence in the peninsula, used them as they were a component of their military bands, and they were subsequently adopted by locals who must have seen a clear use for them in razafaat.

go to top of page

The tambura

A model aircraft marking the holding of a tambura

The tambura is a very different character of dance, having its roots in Africa. I suggested above that it is unlikely to change much but I suspect that this may not be the case. Even in the nineteen seventies it took two different forms. One of them appeared to be the genuine event, the other a more recreational version of it to which anybody might be invited to watch. My feeling is that this might turn into a more touristic performance, though if the practice continues, there is likely also to be a continuation of the more private form as it appears to be taken seriously by some.

Two drummers with a tambura seen behind them

The tambura used to be held in a house or courtyard in the older areas of Doha within its inner ring. It seemed that the more genuine tambura was held on Thursday night, the more public one on Friday afternoon. In order to find it you just followed the deep percussive sound of the drums through the unlit sikkak – the only lights would be from kersone lamps seen through open doorways – but there would also be a tall flag-pole, such as that shown above, on the top of which there would generally be a crude model aircraft which reminded me a little of an element of the Cargo Cult practices – though I am not suggesting any connection between the two ceremonies.

Lines of men dancing

Although I have referred to the tambura as a dance it is really derived from a healing or cleansing ceremony, or ritual. It is pre-Islamic, originates in Africa, is generally performed or led by women and involves zaar who is either a god, cult or a state of trance – depending on who you talk to. It is clear that many I have spoken to find it difficult to discuss. The obvious reason would be the primacy of Islam and the conflict that must exist between Islam and the interpretation of this particular ceremony.

The music associated with this dancing is known as saamry and those who take part in the dancing are said to have istanzal, a colloquial term derived from the verb nazala, to descend or climb down.

Lines of men and women dancing

At its simplest it is an event, lasting two or three hours, which appears to be controlled by a woman at which, to the accompaniment of drums, a stringed instrument – the tambura – and a percussive device worn around the waist – the manjur – men and a few women move in time to the rhythm with the apparent goal of some of them entering into a state of trance.

Incorporating a jump into the dance

Customarily the men will first have been participants in the dance where they move in lines that go backwards and forwards, the rather curious, shuffling dance incorporating a series of short runs and jumps, though much of the dance is performed at a walk. This part of the event takes up an hour or more with short breaks, and there seems to be no discernible pattern to the repetitions. It appears that the woman governing the event determines this in accordance with tradition and circumstance as well as the needs of those attending.

Two men working themselves into a trance

At some stage one or two of the men will break out of the line and throw themselves on the ground, usually kneeling between two drums, and whip the upper half of their bodies backward and forward in time with the beat of the drums. It is a physically demanding motion that must aid their move into a trance-like state. When this is reached they will sit with their feet straight out, hands on knees while somebody will support them from falling sideways until they come round.

A man working himself into a trance

At this stage, and I have only witnessed this indoors, it is not uncommon for them to be covered with a sheet held over them so that they and the person asking questions, usually a woman, have a degree of privacy. I have been told that, when a person enters a trance, they may then answer questions put to them, and that the questions would be in the form of asking advice on personal problems. I have also seen people go into trances where they then had to be kept from harming themselves. In a confined space, the real form can be a little disconcerting when seen for the first time.

Dancers at a tambura

These photographs, taken from different events, all show something of the more public ceremonies. In the first photo there is a woman leading the dance with both women and men dancing behind her. To the left there are two men, each with a manjur and twisting their bodies as they operate it. A single drum is being used in the foreground. Note that, behind the woman, there is the base of the pole holding the model aircraft.

Musicians playing, in the foreground drums and, behind them, a tambura

The drums, as you can see, are made from tins originating in the oil industry over which a piece of animal hide is stretched and fixed with a binding. The drums are struck with a length of thick, rubber insulation from electrical cabling. The sound they produce is felt viscerally for some distance. Sitting near them for too long can make you feel decidedly uncomfortable. I have not seen them tuned so can not say if they are heated as the larger drums are, or if they are tightened mechanically as seems might be the case from the photograph.

Three musicians tuning a drum

While this photograph, taken in February 1974, was made at a razeef and not at a tambura, it shows three musicians tuning a drum by tightening the binding ropes that hold the drumskin over the rigid body of the drum. Out of picture was a fire which was additionally used in the tightening up of drumskins, the warming of the drumskin raising the tone of the drum.

There is another drum that is commonly used but I don’t have a photograph of it. The drum is the tabl which is double-ended, similar in size to the drums in the photograph below, is suspended at waist level horizontally around the neck and beaten at both ends.

A stack of manjur

The manjur is a simple but interesting percussion instrument which is likely to have been developed centuries ago with the re-use of a material left over from the processing of goats for food. Each is constructed from well over a hundred dried goats hooves which have been loosely attached to a canvas or sacking backcloth enabling them to strike against each other.

Putting on a manjur Putting on a manjur

The manjur is a relatively heavy instrument and is worn tied with cords around the waist as is illustrated in these two photographs. The cords have to be pulled tight in order to prevent the manjur slipping during the performance. In order to create the characteristic percussive noise which drives the dancing, the hips are swivelled rhythmically, the dried hooves making a hard, double rattle to mark beats of the music – as I recall, the first two beats of a four-beat bar. Usually I have seen only a single manjur being used but on some occasions I have witnessed two in operation with each man encouraging the other to put more effort into it, the action requiring considerable exertion as it is a strenuous movement lasting at least ten minutes before there is a break in the performance.

Dancers with musicians playing, on the right a tambura and, behind it, a manjur

In this photograph the musical instrument, the tambura can be more clearly seen as it provides the music for the dance. It appears to be a five gut-stringed, lyre-like instrument, tensioned on a decorated timber frame, though there are, in fact, six strings. According to my research, the strings are tuned to a pentatonic scale. It is played with the fingers plucking the strings with one hand, usually the right, the other hand being used to create the notes and to dampen the strings. The man in the background is employing the manjur to provide the rhythm of the dance. Often he will use a cane of walking stick length, apparently to improve his balance.

A drummer seen through the strings of a tambura

Here, although the focus of the photograph is on one of the drummers at the event, the strings of the tambura can be seen in the foreground – four individually spaced and a pair of strings. I don’t know the purpose of the pair. Here, the instrument was played at an event held on the Corniche in February 1984, which many of the local groups attended both for natural enjoyment as well as with a degree of commercial advertisement, many of the drums being decorated with the name of the group and a telephone number.

A family watching the dancing

The tambura, at least the public version of it, seems to be a social event for the area in which it is taking place, as well as having a recreational if not an entertainment flavour to it, or even a therapeutic rationale. It always takes place in a family’s courtyard, as it was in this photograph where the whole of the family were either participating or watching. I should also note that there may be more than one location where a tambura is taking place on an afternoon or evening.

A mabkhar being carried to guests A mabkhar being carried to guests

Guests at the tambura are given tea and coffee as they would be in any Qatari house and, as illustrated in these two photographs, similarly a midkhan burning a’oud is brought round to perfume the guests’ clothes, the guests using their hands to waft the perfumed smoke under their ghutrah, bisht and abaya. The event will take place indoors if the weather is significantly cold or it is raining when it becomes significantly different in character due to the confining space. In this case there is only space for a few people and the noise and movement can seem overwhelming. Although I have witnessed a number of performances, the one which had the most effect on me took place indoors. Note how, in the top photograph, the courtyard has been covered with sand. In some courtyards this might be shell sand, even though this produces a more loose surface to dance on.

As you might understand from what’s been written above, there is a very strong percussive element to Gulf music. Earlier I mentioned fishing and pearling traditions. One musical instrument I have seen used in the latter is a lozenge-shaped water jug which is hit with the flat of the hand on its opening to produce a flat percussive note. The other percussive element worth mentioning is the clapping which forms a part of the ardha and razeef. The way in which the hands are struck produces a very hard, dry sound. Qataris take pride in the sound they produce in this manner, and I have heard performers and listeners criticising the softer sounds, particularly of some groups.

go to top of page


A standard school building - image taken from a Ministry of Information book, 1973

There are a number of notes on education scattered through all the pages that look at Qatar society, but it might be useful to draw some of them together here. Because of this there is likely to be repetition, for which I apologise. Hopefully there will be little or no contradiction and, bearing in mind these notes were written between the 1980s and the 2020s, much will be out of date.

This first image was taken from a Ministry of Information book, ‘Qatar’ published in 1973, and illustrating progress the State was making in the development of the country. The school building was one of the standard educational structures being constructed across the peninsula catering for boys and girls at primary and secondary levels, none of the schools being coeducational. As with all construction at the time they were built of concrete frames with concrete block infilling creating hard surfaces reflecting noise in the classrooms and common spaces making teaching problematic, as I was told by students.

A young girls’ classroom

This second image is one issued by the Ministry of Education in the 1970s illustrating a girls’ primary school classroom. The young girls are in uniform and it might be guessed there are around thirty students, some out of picture.

Not only was a good education considered necessary, but parents and children were apparently keen to have their children educated, with the Ministry of Education keeping extensive records of numbers and achievements. Attendance was mandatory and there were also facilities for those who were disadvantaged as well as for adults as part of a literacy programme.

Early schoolchildren

Because of the history of the peninsula, its pattern and age of settlement, and the relatively late development with the beginnings of the oil revenues, it is not surprising that formal education did not start until the early nineteen-fifties. Prior to this there was the traditional Quranic education through the kuwttab system, an elementary form of education that used recitation and memorising of the Quran as a basis for providing young Muslims with a good knowledge of the book that forms their social and religious codes. This was supplemented with arithmetic and basic Arabic, again based on the Quran.

Education was always seen as an imperative in order to raise the capabilities of the society as well as to develop a cadre of educated individuals who would be able to take the lead in benefitting the society as a whole. The first elementary school was opened in Doha, for boys, in 1951 but it took a little time for a girls school to follow. The reason for this had much to do with Qatari society seeing women’s role in a traditional sense, the thinking being that their task was to run the household. But there was also a belief that religion did not permit or encourage formal education for women. It took a series of religious fataawaa to change this. The first primary school for girls opened in 1955 in Doha.

Schoolboys with their teacher

These initial primary schools were quickly supplemented with intermediate and secondary schools for both sexes; hostels for those having to travel some distance were established and a series of benefits given to the children ranging from transportation and uniforms to the material required for their education as well as a form of salary. It is certainly true that children had a wide range of material assistance in their studies.

By the end of the nineteen-eighties there were, in primary, preparatory and secondary education, 62,000 students in 192 schools. However, there were said to be a number of problems contributing to a situation in which students were not given an education of similar quality to that which might be obtained in the West, and one that did not prepare the student for his or her role in the society. A number of factors combined to bring this about:

  • the system of education is one imported from abroad, essentially Egyptian in character, rather than being tailored for the social outlook of Qatari students;
  • the learning of an extremely large amount of information is required to be assimilated by the student;
  • methodology is not a prime consideration of the learning method, nor is there any emphasis on lateral thinking;
  • there is little time devoted to social issues nor immediate history;
  • the sizes of classes are large;
  • the physical state of many of the schools is poor; and
  • there appear to be considerable difficulties in keeping order in the schools.

Having said that, by the end of the nineteen-eighties it was also true to say that everybody was obtaining an better education and that the literacy rate had risen dramatically.

In order to service the schools, a number of teachers were introduced, mainly Egyptian, Jordanian and Palestinian. They brought with them the educational systems of their northern Arab states, with Qatari teachers soon joining them, the whole system being controlled from the new Ministry of Education, again initially staffed in the main by expatriate Arabs.

In the early seventies, and with the rapidly increasing oil prices, the State began to investigate the possibility of establishing a University. There were arguments that this might be better dealt with by training the students at existing Universities elsewhere as this would be more cost effective for the relatively small numbers of students requiring it, would give Qatari students the ability to learn at well established Colleges selected throughout the world for their ability to match teaching to need, and that Qatar should concentrate on technological education that was obviously more needed by the evolving requirements of the State. In the event most Gulf States established their own universities and, in this, Qatar was no exception.

Tertiary education began around 1973, aimed at university education rather than technical or trades-based education, despite the latter being argued as more necessary to a rapidly expanding State and population. While a university education was established as being the norm, a relatively small technical facility was established at Medinat Khalifa for training some in technical trades. A College of technology was established at Qatar University initially catering for between 150-200 students of both sexes.

The building at the entrance gate to the Gulf University

The Gulf University was established in Doha in 1977. Physically it was seen as an element of the New District of Doha but located deliberately at some distance from Doha in order for it to retain a degree of privacy due to women being students there, at that time an important consideration. The initial development was theoretically based on a traditional response to environmental control and was awarded the prestigious Aga Khan Award.

While the development of the New District of Doha has reached and enclosed the university, it is now a fact that more women than men are being educated within the system. There appear to be four reasons for this. Firstly:

  • many men prefer to go into employment or business rather than elect to spend time obtaining a university education;
  • some men have gone abroad for specialised education, often associated with medicine, engineering, business and the like. It is true that some women also have been educated abroad, but it is not as easy, socially, to do so;
  • women tend to believe they will advance both their work prospects as well as their social standing by continuing through tertiary education; and
  • there is a social imperative that gives so many more possibilities for enjoyment to women with the opportunities provided by the university.

Most students achieve passes, and at the 1989 graduation ceremony of Qatar University, 269 male students graduated compared with 665 female students – a proportion of approximately two to five. A similar proportion were graduated at the 1990 graduation ceremony. By the end of 1989 Qatar has graduated, in the twelve years of its university’s establishment, 6,082 students of whom about 5,000 were Qataris. Most men graduate as engineers of some form or other, and it is within the specialisations of scientific research and technological development that students are encouraged to attend university. It was only in 1989 that the first graduates in Economics and Administration appeared.

A much smaller number of students are permitted to go abroad to study – for the Academic Year 1987-88 this was reported as 916 students in nineteen Arab and other foreign countries compared with the 5,621 at Qatar University for the same period. These students are following specialisations that are not available to them at Qatar University, but they must also show unusual promise as funding is given them, and monitoring and ratification of their achievements must be effected through the Ministry of Education. These students tend to comprise a higher echelon of university graduates both by virtue of their initial selection as well as by the various effects upon them of their Western education. In this lies one of the causative factors of the social division that has developed, particularly since the increase of the oil prices in the mid-seventies.

A Qatari student in the University – photo courtesy of Frederick Noronha, Goa, India

As mentioned above, the University graduates a far larger proportion of women than men, and this was thought likely to cause social difficulties in the longer term. It was apparent that there were incipient social problems in two specific areas. Women use the University to extend their life outside the home and later some would obtain work mainly in the Ministries of Health, Education and Information – Qatari women, by social custom, can not work in the private sector, though there may be some working within family concerns where they do not come into contact with the general public.

However, it is evident that a significant number of these graduates wish to be employed in areas other than those customarily permitted them and, increasingly, Qatari women graduates are vying with expatriate graduates for positions within the Ministries. This in itself is a cause of some friction within the female side of the society. In addition available positions are diminishing and placement can then only be made by the establishment of more posts at the levels at which graduates are created within the rules of the Government; essentially middle-management. Here there is a feeling that many of the posts are not absolutely essential, and that the Government is encouraging a centre-weighted structure that will be ill-equipped to face the present and future needs of the society.

This may be exacerbated by Government initiatives to increase the proportion of Qatari women in the workforce. In 1986 14% of Qatari women were recorded as working, this figure increasing to 34% by 2006, but then stabilising at around that figure. In 2012, Government announced that it wishes to see the the number of women working rise to 42% by 2016. It is interesting, if not significant, that one of the Qatar University studies which has been awarded a three-year grant – Kin Influences on Qatari Women’s Transitions into the Labor Force: A Panel Study – refers to ‘cultural and social impediments’ influencing the choices Qatari women have in education.

The second area in which there are incipient social problems is in the relationship between male and female graduates. This has been alluded to in many parts of these notes. It is often said that the women graduates are brighter than the men. This appears to be felt quite deeply by men, so much so that there has been resistance to wives being found for men where they might cause difficulties by virtue of their better education and its implied superior intelligence; by their wishing to satisfy their improved status by taking and holding a responsible job; and by the possibility that their improved status might demonstrate itself in a wife more likely to be socially and economically difficult to control.

There may be something in these feelings. By the beginnings of the nineteen-nineties, staff at the University were experiencing difficulties when dealing with the perceptions to study of their female students. Partly this arises because of the way in which courses have been designed, and partly because of the way the female students perceive they should carry out course work. For instance, there are students who will either not carry out some of their home economics practical work because they would never do that kind of work at home, and there are others who will have their servants do the work for them for the same reason. There are also servants who will not permit their mistress to do the work, insisting on doing it themselves. It is difficult to be critical, however, where the courses are so far removed from the society and the practical ways in which it goes about its business.

Female students are very much under inspection, not only by staff, but by their peers. Women students represent their families outside the confines of their homes and their dress and behaviour are daily subject to intense scrutiny from other students. In addition they are also subject to the inspection of mothers seeking a wife for their sons, and the University has become a recognised place to view and select wives.

The education system introduced two other initiatives to benefit those living within the State. The first was that made to reduce illiteracy. Bear in mind that many of those who were no longer of schooling age were unable to read or write adequately. This was dealt with by a programme of special education for all those who needed, and could be encouraged, to benefit from it. It was, of course, in Arabic and that also applied to the primary, intermediate, secondary and tertiary schooling system.

In response to the need to encourage expatriates to work in Qatar, schooling was also provided through the medium of encouraging different national groups to establish schools that taught their national curricula in their national languages. While many of these schools provided only for their own nationals some, such as the first English Speaking School, provided education for a large number of nationalities – but in English and to the British national curricula. These schools were registered and, to some extent, monitored by the Ministry of Education. In addition, the English school was inspected regularly by the British Inspectorate of Schools in order that children educated in Qatar might come from, and return to education in Britain without disbenefit.

There are more notes relating to education on the page dealing with pressures in society.

More to be written…


Society 05   |    top   |    History of the peninsula

Islamic design
menu for this section of the site

Search the Islamic design study pages