Tag Archives: Arab culture

Al Zubarah’s History: Feuds, Friends and Foes

“People returned to the town after the attack of 1811, but only very slowly. For many years there were only temporary camps of huts and tents. Eventually a new fortified village grew in the heart of the ruins, but this too came to a dramatic end.” (Al Zubarah Archaeological Site sign)

Situated 105 km (65 miles) from Doha, Qatar’s capital city, within a sun-scorched landscape lies the remains of the ancient, deserted town of Zubarah. At its peak (1760-1811), the pearling town was home to several thousand people and stretched almost a mile along the northern coast. It is Qatar’s largest archaeological site.

Pearl merchants Mohammed bin Khalifa and Ahmed bin Rizq left their native Kuwait in 1179, sailed down the Arabian Gulf along the Saudi border, skirting the small island of Bahrain, and anchored in Qatar where the two established the community. Other families and merchants soon followed. In fact, according to historical documentation, Al Zubarah’s population grew to approximately 6,000 consisting of a mix of local tribes as well as Gulf immigrants.

“With access to the rich pearl beds off the coast of Bahrain and strong tribal links to other merchant families, the town became one of six major trading ports in the region, bringing in great wealth and luxuries from as far away as China and Japan in the east, and Britain in the west,” explains a storyboard at the site.

Located in a climatically unsuitable locale, these were dangerous times. Tribal feuds and disputes between centers of power were common as well as the dangerous seas. Because of the discovery of rich pearl beds and the seas as a major seafaring route for trading ships, piracy and raids on pearling ships, trading vessels and settlements were all too common. It’s no wonder walls were quickly constructed to protect the town.

Standing at the entrance of UNESCO’s newly designated archaeological site, I wonder what it must have been like 200 years ago as I gaze about the sun-scorched landscape. Al Zubarah, like many other small communities, sprang up along the bay and flourished due to lucrative pearl fishing and international trade. Surprisingly, the town’s remains are largely intact with the entire street plan having been preserved for hundreds of years beneath the secluded desert sand.

Today, the desert sands conceal 500 ruined buildings, long walls and towers, two screening walls and the sister settlement of Qal’at Murair, where the town’s fresh water wells were located.

As I begin my short walking tour, strategically placed information boards explain that not only has the way of life of this town’s former inhabitants changed, so too has the architecture of the structures. The tour takes visitors behind the walls of the 18th century town, through a wealthy neighborhood and inside a large fortified building. Popular during Al Zubarah’s era, courtyard houses were low, mosques built of stone, and long but low defensive walls with watch towers encompassing the town.

The 1811 and 1878 Attacks
In 1811, the Sultan of Muscat’s army attacked the town and left it burning; virtually destroying the entire area. Shortly after the attack, the town was rebuilt, although at only one third of its original size; thus, beginning its second life so to speak, defined by a new, inner town wall.

Bedouin-hutArchaeology records indicate that people slowly returned and initially lived in palm frond huts, known as barasti, and tents over the ruins of the marketplace (souq). Eventually, the residents rebuilt the town constructing simple, stone-built houses on top of the ruins of the original. It is believed that a new wall and watchtower were built during this time.

Life remained challenging, particularly as area tribes clamored for more power and authority. Ultimately, in November 1878 members of the Bani Hajir tribe and Sheikh Al Bida’s tribe attacked Al Zubarah, which led to its destruction once and for all.traditional-majlas-tent

The local tribes, however, struggled to rebuild and resettle. A number of prevailing factors and events prevented this. The Ottoman Empire claimed the area – although they never physically set up a fort – along with a Bahraini tribe in 1895 that moved to the town. At the time, Bahrain was a British protectorate.

Reportedly, “the move made the British uneasy, and when a large fleet of armed dhows were spotted in the bay, the British took action firing on the assembled ships.” It was further reported that 44 of 200 boats were destroyed with many other vessels seized. The Bahraini Ali bin Ali tribe was ordered to evacuate the settlement within two weeks, which they did.

Al Zubarah was finally abandoned and forgotten, left to crumble under the scorching desert sun and sand.

palace-courtyard-reducedAl Zubarah Townsite Today
Fused into the stark desert panorama, partially uncovered are a palace, a raised walkway that allowed soldiers to patrol the wall, some homesteads and a mosque, all of which were discovered during excavations in the 1980s.

An L-shaped passageway led to the palace entrance – a main courtyard – which provided privacy. Archaeologists discovered a windowless room believed to be the kitchen that was filled wall to wall with deep, clay-lined cooking pits.

The home of a wealthy family that included nine large courtyards was also discovered. Ornate plaster floors and geometrically decorated wall patterns lend credence to the family’s wealth. Also unearthed in the home were date storerooms, various kitchens with ovens, and plaster lined basins believed to have been primitive bathrooms.palace-ruins-reduced

Surrounding the town site in each corner is a round tower that helped support the long walls. According to the storyboard at one of the tower sites, “excavation has revealed internal cross walls for added strength and may have been included to support cannons; a reminder of the dangerous times people lived in.” town-wall-reduced

Al Zubarah Fort
Nearby, but outside the town proper, stands the weather-beaten Al Zubarah Fort. Constructed in 1938, the small stone fort with its simple lines and four symmetric corner turrets overlooks a desolate, windswept landscape. Sprinkled nearby are abandoned villages cordoned off for current and future archaeological exploration.

FORT-WITH-CANNONZubarah Fort was commissioned by Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani as a Coast Guard station to guard against sea intruders. Transformed into a museum in the 1990s, it recently reopened after a major renovation. A hallmark of the fort is the old cannon located outside the front gate.

Research indicates that the fort walls were constructed by blending overlapping chunks of limestone with a mortar and pestle mixture specifically designed for grinding mud. The protective compressed mud roof provided shade and coolness for its military occupants.

The fort has three corners each with massive circular towers used for defense, while the fourth rectangular tower was more for aesthetics. The original eight ground floor rooms, typical of early Gulf fortifications, accommodated the solders with a connecting external wood staircase to reach the upper floors and roof. Today the rooms feature artifacts and storyboards as well as a small gift shop.inside-Zubarah-fort-reduced

The Well at Al Zubarah Fort
Fresh water in Qatar was – and continues to be – scarce. For desert dwellers, water is essential for survival. Therefore, men created wells by cutting through the hard limestone until they reached the water table. The water was subsequently stored in underground cisterns. Large water jars were fashioned of clay that held water to be used for everything from drinking and making coffee to watering crops and ensuring that the animals had water to drink.

At the water table level was fresh water, but if dug too deeply, it was salty and would require boiling prior to use. The well that has been discovered in the fort is at least one-half mile deep and could go deeper. Water was drawn up from the well via a bucket that would have been lowered by a long rope. There are other nearby wells outside of the fort, however they are salt water wells and its water unsafe to drink.Zubarah-Fort-well

The daylong excursion to Qatar’s northwestern portion of the country was interesting and time well spent. Although self-guided, it was interesting to explore and imagine what life was like for these villagers during its years of turbulence. I suspect learning more about the local tribes and their disagreements would make for a fascinating study, thus, providing a more meaningful framework for the archaeological ruins lying before me.

In the meantime, as close as I can come to relating to what life was like in this archaeological site at the moment is atop a camel. Gazing about as my old camel saunters around the fort, I am trying hard to imagine the hardship of life back in the days when desert-camels-from-fort-doornothing could or would be taken for granted.

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Celebrating Palestinian Heritage in Doha, Qatar


Bathed in black, the jubilant men methodically made their way in my direction amid drumming, clapping and shouts of well wishes. As they came into view, the groom was quickly hoisted up onto the shoulders of two men in the wedding procession while the bride, the only woman, followed behind. Garbed in a white traditional gown with a red patterned bodice and wearing a matching red and white headscarf dotted with jewelry pieces dangling against her forehead, the Palestinian bride took her place in the spotlight alongside her husband-to-be. The audience in the overflowing room of now standing-only spectators was about to witness the enactment of a traditional Palestinian wedding. The dozen male performers, heads swathed in the commonly wrapped black and white checkered scarves securely tied in the back, enthusiastically danced reminiscent of a New York chorus line. It was an incredible experience.

The wedding enactment was just one of the highlights of the inaugural Palestinian Heritage Week recently held at Katara the Cultural Village in Doha, Qatar, and co-sponsored by Katara and the Qatar-Palestinian Friendship Association.Image

In addition to the live wedding enactment, the Ibdaa Palestinian Troupe, who were featured in the wedding, performed 30 minutes’ worth of lively and high energy folk dances. “This traditional folk dance extends for numerous years and features holding of hands to reflect the unity and solidarity of Palestinians,” explained the festival organizer.

Ibdaa, which means ‘to create something out of nothing’, is a grassroots initiative of Dheisheh Refugee Camp. Founded in 1995, Ibdaa reportedly serves more than 1500 children and young people annually through various programs, while providing job opportunities to more than 60 families in the Palestinian camp.

Ibdaa’s mission is to provide an environment for the camp’s children and young people to develop their ability, creativity and leadership skills through social, cultural and educational activities that are not readily available in the camp. It strives to empower the children and instill in them confidence and strength to face their difficult future, while educating the international community on the Palestinian refugee issue.

The Ibdaa troupe performs dance pieces that tell the history, struggle and aspiration of Palestinian refugees by intertwining debkeh traditional Palestinian dance, and theatrical choreography. This traditional folk dance has existed for many years and is recognized by the holding of hands to reflect the Palestinians’ unity and solidarity.

The Askalan Palestinian Band took to the stage next singing folk songs. Their music featured keyboards, vocalists, background singers and an electric oud. A male and female singer took turns belting out traditional songs with uncanny passion. Although everything was in Arabic, and I was at a loss to know the story and meaning behind the song’s lyrics, it was a very moving performance.

As part of the weeklong event, an artisanal exhibition highlights homemade crafts, such as silver jewelry created from olive leaves (a symbol of peace), mother of pearl pieces including a large replica of “Dome of the Rock”, glass blown products, ceramic items and floor tiles, olive oil soap, time-honored embroidered clothing and tapestries, and crafts made from olive tree wood. Most of the embroidery work, including abayas, scarves, accessories and bags, features traditional Palestinian embroidery, known as tatriz, which is produced through a woman’s collective.

The eclectic fusion of blue, green, brown and turquoise colored glass products caught my attention. I quickly purchased two beautiful and delicately-appearing matching goblets. The twin wine glasses make a stunning conversation piece and are heavy and well made. Though non-dishwasher safe because of the glass content, they will withstand steady use and future moves.

The collective at Ibdaa Cultural Center in West Bank provides an alternative income source to the families. It also strives to preserve the ancient cultural heritage that has been passed down through generations of Palestinian mothers and daughters. Women from West Bank and Gaza have made all of the products displayed.Image

As part of Adel Fair Trade initiative, Palestinians are striving to build an economy under occupation. Adel is a pioneer national marketing program supporting products and cooperatives of marginalized families in terms of fair trade and fair price principles for both producers and consumers with the goal of improving their economic situation.

Some of the Palestinian-made products available to sample and for sale included olive oil, olive paste, makdous (stuffed baby eggplants mixed with nuts), atayeb, a dried tomato and olive mixture using all non-chemical ingredients, which we purchased, sheep cheese, red chili sauce, sweet pumpkin jam, natural honey, grape molasses and various whole wheat and couscous products along with an array of dried spices, and an impressive and mouth-watering selection of sweets, such as harissa and kanafeh. All of the Palestinian recipes are passed through generations, authentic and grown and produced using local raw materials free of unsafe and unhealthy chemical ingredients and preservatives. Information passed out claims the product’s standards match international and national standards.

Emad Abu Zuluf, chairman of the Palestinian-Qatari Friendship Association explained to the press that apart from strengthening relations between Palestine and Qatar, the association has been instrumental in becoming a bridge that has facilitated cultural communication by sharing and promoting its culture.

The music was upbeat, the audience multinational, and the evening highly entertaining and educational. Seeking out other nationalities and learning about their cultures is one of the great rewards of being an expat in a foreign country. It is a journey of constant discovery.

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A Tradition of Hospitality Still Exists Today in the Arab Culture


Bedouins traveling with their camels throughout the desert needed enough water to reach the next well. To refuse a traveler refreshment in such a place as the desolate desert is to let him die; to threaten the openhandedness nomadic peoples must depend on to survive.

Nomadic traveling in the harsh desert climate necessitated the need for water. Bedouins have always been welcomed when stopping for water. That tradition continues today. The Arab Bedouin culture of hospitality is as strong today as it was in the past.

In many areas of Doha, especially the traditional Bedouin areas, water spigots are lined along the sidewalks for laborers and anyone else needing a refreshing cup of water. This is in addition to all mosques that have the water stations where Muslims will wash their hands and feet before entering the mosque to pray.Image

I’ve seen many water “stations” in various forms both in Bahrain and here in Qatar.

Because we live in a former Bedouin neighborhood, there are numerous stations – at least one per block – on area streets. So the other day, I decided to take a few photos of them.

I came across one that resembled old earthenware pottery, while the majority are “modern contraptions” mounted on a wall. Some are relatively primitive and in poor condition, while others more decorative and modern.

All of these are within a 10-block radius of our Doha compound. An interesting bit of culture. Enjoy!

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Falcons: Cultural Icons of the Arab Bedouin Culture


Excitement gripped the desert air as competitors and spectators gathered daily in Doha’s desert for more than three weeks during the Fourth Annual Qatar International Falcons and Hunting Festival, which concludes in early February.

The mighty birds of prey perched unassumingly with their tiny heads ensconced in tight leather helmets, Mary Coons discovered, mostly oblivious to what was transpiring around them.

The annual event is widely recognized as one of the Gulf’s largest festivals in the specialized field of falcons and hunting. Competitions break down between falcon age categories, local and international tournaments, type of competition, and the coveted beauty contest.

Malika Mohamed Al Shraim, the event’s public relations specialist, explained that a saker falcon generally has a 20-plus year life span. Training begins after the bird is a year old and it is imperative that the falcon bonds strongly with its owner. An exceptional falcon can cost up to $150,000.

According to Ms. Al Shraim, major festival objectives included balancing between meeting the immediate needs and requirements of preserving the environment and falconry heritage; preserving the sport of falconry; urging young people to respect wildlife in general and protect falcons as an endangered species; and finally, educating young people as to the importance and identity of falconry traditions.

Falconry has been a prominent tradition of all GCC countries’ heritage for thousands of years. The hobby, strongly rooted in the Bedouin culture, has been passed down and preserved through the generations and is a well-known practice in the Gulf. The falcon represents values of loyalty, courage and perseverance; all important Bedouin lifestyle attributes.

“A challenge,” explains Ms. Al Shraim, “is to have three generations of falconers. Most young people today have no interest in falconry. Although my father had a falcon when I was growing up, I didn’t pay any attention to the bird or the sport. We are actively trying to change that mindset.”Image

The Qatar festival organizers believe falconry remains an essential part of its cultural heritage, “which makes breeding and training of these birds important to strengthen the Qatari society link with its history,” Ms. Al Shraim told me.

The most common type of falcon in the Middle East is the saker (saqr). Kings and emirs own pure white Gyrfalcons, the largest and most powerful falcons, and the most revered.

As the Arabs settled in for an afternoon of falconry in the pleasant late January winter, a steady stream of Westerners found their way to the event as well. It was a welcome sight to see others interested in this Bedouin sport.

The Al Da’o competition was scheduled the day I attended. This timed event measures the launching speed of the falcon over 400 meters (1,312 feet – almost the length of four football fields). Most of the birds instinctively flew low to the ground once released focused on the feather at the finish line. The winning bird crossed over in just under 18.6 seconds. Most came in between 19.5 and 20.5 seconds.

It was not all perfect, however, as when one falcon was released it flew up and then circled around the back of the start line searching for its owner resulting in disqualification. Many of the birds flew too high in the air losing valuable time. Big screen monitors were positioned to show the bird in flight as well as the time clock.

Earlier in the week was the juvenile peregrine falcon championships, where releasing a dove starts the competition. The falcon tries to catch it or surround it in one place. Ms. Al Shraim noted that of the 199 falcons during the past week that participated in this competition, only two caught the dove.

The Most Beautiful Falcon
Curious as to how a falcon is judged for its beauty, I put the question to Ms. Al Shraim. After first explaining that the male and female look similar, she got specific with the judging criteria. The most beautiful bird – which by the way, wins $150,000 and a gold feather encrusted with diamonds for its owner – should possess thick eyebrows, large eyes and beak, its head size must correlate with its body size, and it should have long talons. The color and length of feathers are also factors. The fewer brown spots and lighter color of the feathers, the better, as well as the requirement of a long tail feather.

Most falconers wear thick leather gloves to protect their arms from the bird’s talons, but many Arabs choose a type of stiff cuff that wraps around the hand instead of gloves. It is not unusual to see these cuffs, known as mangalas, sporting intricately woven designs to signify the artistic and regal allure of the sport.


Hoods are placed over the bird’s head when perched or on an arm/glove to keep them calm. The simple helmet design is made from stiff leather and occasionally may feature beads or some other type of ornamentation.

If you have never seen a falcon competition and have the opportunity, it is quite interesting. As with any sport, the pressure is on, and the results are not always as expected. And that’s all part of the excitement.

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The Bedouin Sport of Camel Racing


The starting “gate” rose up and the dozen brown, one-humped dromedary camels jerked forward as a pack. Shouting handlers darted behind them a short distance encouraging them to run faster. A truck with a mounted camera sped off in advance while a sea of white Land Cruisers accelerated alongside the sand track. This camel race was in full swing.

Interestingly, the galloping animals do not like to be alone. Once out of the gate, they instinctively weaved to either side of the rails and those camels that began running down the middle of the track quickly drifted to one side or the other to remain a part of the pack.

The camel owners, I learned, had remote control transmitters in their vehicles and pushed their camels on by either talking to them and/or activating the robot on their backs. The owners stayed with them the entire race, which today featured six km (3.7 miles).

This being my first experience observing camels racing, I assumed that it would be very similar to horse racing. In some respects, it is, but in other aspects, it is quite different. During the five heats I watched, the camel in the lead at the start was never the winning camel, which suggested to me that either these animals are not taught how to pace themselves throughout the race or the owners racing alongside with their transmitters don’t allow them to.

The camels practice daily with their handlers and are grouped by age. With the handlers’ limited English speaking abilities, I was unable to learn if there was such a thing as a purebred racing camel or not. I suspect not.

As the sport grew more competitive in the mid-1980s, trainers began using child jockeys, a practice banned worldwide in 2005.

With technology catching up with this “Sport of Sheikhs”, Qatar eventually also stopped using child jockeys and switched to robots. The titanium robot jockeys are designed to look like humans equipped with electronic whips and were first controlled by an armchair jockey manning a joystick and computer screen. Now, men drive alongside the track using remote-controlled robot jockeys.Image

Today, all camels race with robot jockeys strapped to their back. Ahmed Suleiman, a Sudanese camel handler from Darfur, showed me the robot jockey and explained how it worked. Each “jockey” is attached to a small metal frame fastened to the camel’s back. It contains two transmitters; one a walky-talky enabling the owner to “give vocal encouragement” to the camel from his vehicle, and a second transmitter that activates the robot. The tiny robot has a swirling arm that when activated, taps the backside of the camel similar to a human jockey using a switch on his racing horse.

According to online research, camels average 25 mph when racing, and top speed is 40-45 mph. Judging from what I saw, however, I’d have to guess that the camels were running at around 20 mph at top speed. The pace slows considerably as the race progresses.  As the camels crossed the finish line they visually slowed dramatically, many at an almost leisurely pace, while gobs of white foam hung from their mouths. A camel usually averages about 2 to 3 miles per hour when walking, 9 or 10 mph when trotting, and 16 mph during a gentle jog.

As they rounded the corner they were led into a holding area where urine bags were fastened on them. Soon thereafter, the bags were removed, and the camels were led into a very large area where the handlers quickly placed blankets over them while loosely tethering them to the fence where they stood for at least 30 minutes cooling down.

A Longtime Bedouin Sport
A prominent Bedouin sport has always been the informal camel race dating back hundreds of years. Many GCC countries implemented racing as an effort to preserve Arab culture and tradition. With serious money to be won, racing is more popular than ever. Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the UAE are popular racing venues.

Qatar featured its first camel race in 1972, while the first race at Al Sheehaniya racetrack – where I was – began in 1990. Today, the racetrack has three concentric tracks: five-, six-, eight- and 10- kilometer distances. Camel races, which typically run during the winter season months of October through late April or early May, are free. In Qatar during the racing season, races are daily – early in the morning and again beginning at 1:30 in the afternoon. Since betting/wagering is haram (forbidden) in Islam, this is strictly an entertainment sport. There are some prestigious races, such as the Emir Cup, where the owners of the winning animals win trophies and monetary prizes.

Camel Features
Camels are an interesting beast. They stand between 1.8 and 2 meters (6 to 6 ½ feet) tall at the shoulders and can weigh from 250 to 680 kilograms (550 to 1500 pounds). Long, curly eyelashes keep out sand and protect their large eyes. Glands supply the eyes with water to stay moist while thick eyebrows shield the eyes from the intense sun.

Powerful leg muscles allow for carrying heavy loads long distances. Camels usually walk, especially if it is hot, but when they must travel faster, they can gallop or pace at a medium speed. The pacing and rocking motion can make riders “seasick”; thus, the associated term “ships of the desert”.

Across the road from the track is a virtual “camel city” where hundreds of men and camels live year round. Their numbers swell considerably prior to a big racing event when owners, trainers and camels from other Arab states move in for a few weeks.

Amid this patchwork of compounds, colorful strings of camel trains, the animals bunched tightly together, sauntered across the road – their riders dressed in the timeless fashion of their ancestors, the camels covered with brightly patterned blankets and crocheted nosebags – to run their daily practice paces. An incredibly friendly lot, handlers waved and shouted ‘hi’, just one of a handful of English words that they knew.

Prior to the day’s races, my husband and I, along with another American couple, crossed the road from the stadium and set about exploring the expansive “camel city”. Peaking around crumbling walls of mortar and wandering past traditional black Bedouin tents and vanilla colored mosques, a group of Sudanese handlers spotted us, and motioned us into their sparse courtyard.


The camels hungrily munched on yellow grains and leafy greens, which resembled baby spinach leaves, paying us no attention except for when we poked a camera into their faces. They were docile and willingly posed for photos. Six of the Sudanese gathered around, one or two hanging back while brushing their teeth and washing up, as we all attempted to communicate with gestures and one- or two-word phrases. Smiles successfully broke the communication barrier every time.

Experiencing local culture is an exceptional way to add depth and meaning to a foreigner’s adventure, and camel racing is one such experience ranking right up there near the top.

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A Lean Running Machine: the Saluki Dog

ImageThe large, yellow machine readied the desert racetrack for its final preparations while a worker manually sprinkled off a finish line chalk mark. The big screen TV scene panned the starting line of anxiety-high Salukis while their handlers struggled to keep them in check prior to the start.

Seconds later, they were off! All eyes were on the jumbo screen down on the track as the dogs bounded forward in lightening speed along the 2 km (1 ¼ mile) desert sand track. The graceful animals raced competitively in an attempt to catch the live gazelle served up as bait suspended from a speeding truck well in front of the race pack. Of course, the dogs were never able to catch up, and as the first Salukis crossed the finish line, workers had already raised the gazelle up and out of the dogs’ reach. A camera mounted near the finish line recorded the race times, although for some reason, the winning times were never broadcast to the spectators.

Not every dog enthusiastically participated however. During the six heats, some of the “competitors” gave up and leisurely trotted down the track, some even stopping well back of the finish line. Before long, all of the dogs were loaded into their owner’s vehicle and driven away ending their day’s performance opportunities. Image

Hunting Dogs
Historically, nomadic tribes used Salukis for hunting. Typical quarry included gazelles, hares, and fox. In one Bedouin method of hunting hares, the hunter rides close to the quarry on a camel while holding the Saluki, which he throws toward the prey, giving the dog a running start. Another method, primarily used in hunting gazelles, involved the use of a hawk to gouge out the prey’s eyes, so that a Saluki can then bring down the blinded animal. Neither method is practiced publicly today.

According to research, a true modern Saluki retains the qualities of hunting hounds and may appear reserved around strangers. Early socialization is necessary to prevent timidity and shyness in later life.

Salukis are easily bored, and should never be left unattended for long periods. Highly sensitive and intelligent dogs, physical force or harsh training methods should never be used. Typically, Salukis do not enjoy rough games or common dog games, such as chasing sticks, yet, given their hunting instincts, they are prone to chasing moving objects.

While the Greyhound is credited as being the fastest breed up to distances nearing 800 meters (2,600 feet), both the Saluki and Whippet breeds are thought to be faster over longer distances. The 1996 edition of the Guinness Book of Records lists a Saluki as being the fastest dog, reaching a speed of 68.8 kilometers (42.8 miles) per hour.Due to its heavily padded feet that absorb the impact on its body, the Saluki has remarkable stamina when running.

Today, the breed remains highly regarded throughout the Middle East, and have been hunting dogs for nobles and rulers around the Gulf region. Bedouins consider the Salukis clean and the dogs are allowed to be in women’s quarters, while other dogs must be kept outside, according to Arab culture.

Physical Descriptions
Salukis are “sight” hounds, which means they hunt by sight, run the prey down, catch it, and kill or retrieve it. The normal size range for the breed is 23–28 inches (58–71 cm) high between the shoulder blades and 40–60 pounds (18–27 kg) in weight, with females slightly smaller than males.The Saluki’s head is long and narrow with large eyes, droopy ears, and a long and curved tail. It has the typical deep-chested, long legged body typical of animals that hunt via sight rather than smell. Their coats come in a variety of colors, including white, cream, fawn, red, grizzle and tan, black and tan, and tricolor (white, black and tan). The terms ‘grace’ and ‘symmetry’ often describe the dogs’ overall appearance.

Historical Origins
The Saluki, also known as the Persian Greyhound and Royal Dog of Egypt, is one of the oldest known breeds of domesticated dogs. Though they require patient training, Salukis are said to be gentle and affectionate with their owners.

The name ‘Saluqi’ has no clear origin but many theories. Modern science claims the origins of all dogs are from eastern China, but no one knows where the Saluki originated. Nomadic tribes spread the breed across the Middle East from Persia to Egypt to as far east as Afghanistan and India, and as far south as Africa’s Sudan.

The dog’s image is evident in many cultures from petroglyphs and rock arts in Golpaygan and Khomein, Iran that shows saluki-like hounds and falcons accompanying hunters chasing prey (ca. 8000-10,000 B.C) to recent Sumerian empire excavations, estimated to range from 7000-6000 B.C. Saluki-like images adorning pottery have been found on Egyptian tombs dating to 2100 B.C. In addition, mummified Salukis have been found alongside the bodies of the Pharaohs in the Pyramids.Image

Historians also believe the breed is the type of dog mentioned in the Bible. Salukis have appeared in medieval paintings depicting Christ’s birth, including artist Paolo’s 1573 work The Adoration of the Magi. Veronese also painted the breed into some of his other religious works, including The Marriage at Cana and The Finding of Moses.

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Doha’s Sheikh Faisal Museum Blends Islamic Civilization with Qatari Heritage Treasures


The open door of a castle wall beckons us into the Hall of Islamic Arts. I was unprepared for what was to follow during the next two and a half hours. I literally found something new around each corner leading into yet another new hall of artifacts. The Sheikh Faisal Museum is a place where the past is alive and well.

Military weaponry, fine arts (woodwork, ceramics, glass, earthenware, paintings, metals and bronze), vintage vehicles and an airplane, textiles, historic manuscripts and calligraphy, life size dhows and Bedouin camps – it’s all here, plus more.

Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani, the museum’s private collector, is the great great-grandson of Jassim Al Thani, the founder of Qatar. In 2012, Sheikh Faisal was awarded the title “Heritage Personality of the Year” for noteworthy achievements in heritage preservation organized under the patronage of the League of Arab States. Sheikh Faisal has been collecting antiques and artifacts since the 1960s, and according to museum staff, exhibit pieces currently total more than three thousand. The five halls – soon to double in size as a new addition receives final touches – comprise collections under three major categories: Islamic Art, Qatar Heritage, and Coins and Currency along with Pre-Islamic artifacts in all the above categories.

Islamic Art Collection

The museum’s Islamic Art collection encompasses objects produced between the 7th and 19th centuries from people living in the Middle East, Far East and Africa. Arrowheads and numerous fine examples of silver-plated and inlaid steel Mughal daggers and swords are displayed along with a fine 19th Century Moroccan powder gun with ivory and silver inlay.

Entering a connecting hall, visitors are introduced to fine examples of wooden works, including numerous engraved, traditional wooden doors with Arabic inscriptions and a marvelous example of an 18th Century wooden Indian cart engraved and decorated with natural dyes.

Row upon row of paintings along with a unique two-headed bronze horse anchor an end of the hall before connecting to vintage motorbikes, bicycles and early prams and tricycles.

Qatar Heritage

Historic car buffs will be awed by this fascinating and eclectic collection of vehicles – including a 19th century steam car – vintage trucks, an airplane and the renowned Williams FW27 Grand Prix Racing Car from the 2005 F1. Rare Model T Fords, Model A roadsters, era Chevy’s, Desoto’s, Mercedes Benz and Dodge vehicles ranging from the 1910s up through the 1960s are well represented.

As an expat visitor, I found myself naturally drawn to the key displays in this hall as they portray the Bedouin way of life and offer glimpses into Qatari heritage that reflects the continuing evolution of the culture. Actual Qatari fishing boats and dhows, fishing equipment and early pearl diving apparatus are very impressive. Qatar heritage is further illustrated via two ample sized Bedouin tents and a stone well drilling down at least 10 feet complete with water barely discernable at the bottom. A large air bellow rests aside a campfire, once used to keep the huge flames burning to allow for cooking and roasting meat. Miscellaneous everyday utensils and objects, which are also important components of Bedouin Arab history, are scattered about helping to tell the story.

A separate area in this hall houses Islamic, Jewish and Christianity artifacts as well as private rooms set up illustrating 19th century kitchens, bedrooms and the appropriate fashions of the day.

Coins, Currency and Calligraphy

Sheikh Faisal’s collection includes both pre-Islamic and Islamic coins ranging from the Umayyad’s to the Ottomans. Banknotes from across the world are also displayed.

Numerous manuscripts, Qurans and centuries-old leather bound books are preserved in a climate-controlled wing of the museum across the hall from another air-conditioned section housing unique styles of jewelry, textiles and embroidered clothing.

One of the highlights for me was the reconstruction of an upper class home from Aleppo, Syria. The structure was dismantled and relocated to the museum where it was painstakingly reconfigured. The fine detail and magnificent ceiling and wall designs and their respective colors are incredible.

Moroccan Style Furniture and Accessories

Massive groupings of wooden and metal inlay wardrobes, chandeliers, chairs, fans and the like overpower the length of one of the hall walls. The pieces are massive and impressive! (photo) Under a glass display is a fascinating collection of women’s sabots (wooden shoes) dating to the Ottoman period. Many were inlaid in mother of pearl, ivory and silver while others were painted with natural dyes.

Scattered throughout the halls are hundreds of carpets and antique rugs both on the floor and hanging behind glass frames on walls, which are also part of the museum collection. Think of the stories behind the designs, workmanship and depictions of these wool and silk threaded masterpieces.

Two courtyards featuring individual wooden carts and miscellaneous wagons and wheels rounded out the exhibit. One of the courtyards had yet another deep well. The courtyards looked to be unfinished works in progress.

If you find yourself in Doha, Qatar, a visit here is a must. The Sheikh Faisal Museum leaves a lasting impression, particularly for history buffs that want to learn more about the rich Arab culture and Qatari heritage and the historic events that contributed to their evolution.

The museum is open from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and on Saturdays. It is closed on Sunday and Friday. Call +974 4486 1444 for directions and to schedule your museum visit and reserve an English-speaking tour guide if you are booking a private group tour. Admission is free. The Sheikh Faisal Museum is a member of the International Council of Museums – UNESCO.


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