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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

What’s in a name? The meanings of Qatar districts, explained

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Doha Skyline
Doha Skyline

Qatar often gets a bad rap for its city planning, or lack thereof. While coordination on the development front may need improvement, one thing that has clearly been given a lot of thought is how places and groups are named here.

Most country’s districts, for example, reflect geographic traits and characteristics known to the tribes who have lived and moved around in the area for decades.

In an effort to better understand the naming of some of Qatar’s oldest areas, the Centre for Geographic Information Systems (CGIS), which is affiliated with the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning (MMUP), launched a project in 1996 to survey and officially document geographic names.

Aerial Doha
Aerial Doha

Its findings were included in a national database, but that service is only provided in Arabic for now.

The CGIS’s nationwide research project included on-site visits, interviews with Bedouin herdsmen and meetings with municipal officials to confirm the accurate historical names of the different districts of Qatar.

Speaking to Doha News, an official at the CGIS said that Qatar is home to 755 districts and eight municipalities, each with its own distinct name.

He sent Doha News more detailed definitions and meanings behind the names of some of Qatar’s most prominent districts and municipalities. Below is a list of some of these interesting names and the meanings behind them:

Doha

Qatar’s capital and main municipality literally means “roundness” in Arabic.

Doha
Doha

The name “Doha” signifies the “rounded bays” that characterize most of Qatar’s coastline.

Al Rayyan

Another large municipality, Al Rayyan is home to Education City. The Arabic word “Rayyan” is derived from the word “Ray,” meaning “irrigation.” Because the area consists of a low-lying ground, it is considered a flood plain.

Education City, Al Rayyan
Education City, Al Rayyan

Due to the constant supply of water in the fertile region, the area was home to a large number of plants.

Even today, when it rains, the streets of Al Rayyan area often become flooded with water. Almost two weeks ago, over 2.5 million gallons of water were sucked from the district’s streets after a day or two of heavy rain, according to Qatar News Agency.

Al Waab

This is a suburb located in the south of Doha. The Arabic word “waab” in its literal sense means “a vast area or place that accommodates things,” according to CGIS.

Al Waab
Al Waab

The geographic name is derived from the fact that the suburb consists of a large, fertile plain where small shrubs and plants amply grow.

Umm Ghuwailina

Umm Ghuwailina Roundabout, which was taken down last year.
Umm Ghuwailina Roundabout, which was taken down last year.

The Arabic word “umm” means “mother.” The word here is used to refer to an “area with specific qualities or features.”

The word “Ghuwailina” is the diminutive form of the name of a tree known as “Ghulan,” which grow in the meadow of  “Umm Ghuwailina,” ie “The mother of Ghulan.”

These Ghulan shrubs produce scale-like leaves and solitary flowers that bloom from September to November. The plant is most common in sandy habitats that are exposed to winds and erosion. They are also grazed on by camels.

Umm Slal Ali

Umm Slal Ali is one of Qatar’s muncipalities. The word “slal” refers to “large boulders or rocks.” Adding in the word “Umm” transforms the meaning into “mother of rocks.”

Several large rock formations used to exist in the area.

Farm in Umm Slal Ali
Farm in Umm Slal Ali

It also consisted of several farms owned by Sheikh Ali Bin Jassim, son of Qatar’s founder Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani, who is credited with unifying the tribes of Qatar.

Sheikh Ali was the namesake of Umm Slal Ali, because he owned a large sector of the area. Today, this district has been growing in population and is now considered to be one of Qatar’s important and well-known cities.

Dukhan

This is an industrial city in western Qatar, widely used for oil and gas exploration. The Arabic word “Dukhan” means “smoke” in English.

Dukhan, Qatar
Dukhan, Qatar

Its name is derived from the dust-laden clouds that resemble smoke from afar, that cover the city.

Al Shahaniya

This district, commonly known for its camel racetrack, was added as one of Qatar’s municipalities last year, bringing the number up to eight municipalities, according to a CGIS official.

Robot camel jockeys in Al Shahaniya
Robot camel jockeys in Al Shahaniya

The Arabic word “shahaniya” is a derivative of the word “sheeh,” the local name of a plant that used to grow abundantly in the district.

The plant, which is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, is now very rare in Qatar, where it is cultivated in light soil. Flowering takes place in May and June. Sheeh is very common in the Middle East and North Africa.

Al Khor

The Arabic language dictionary “Lisan Al Arab” defines the Arabic word “khor” as “an indentation of a shoreline between two headlands or a bay.”

Purple Island/mangroves in Al Khor
Purple Island/mangroves in Al Khor

Since the city, home of the beautiful Purple Island and some of Qatar’s mangroves, is situated near a bay, it is called Al Khor (formerly Khor Al Shaqiq). The most commonly known bays in Qatar are Al Khor and Khor Al Edaid.

Al Zubara

This is a historic town located northwest of Qatar in Madinat Ash-Shamal municipality.

Al Zubarah Fort
Al Zubarah Fort

The Arabic word “Zubara” means mounds of sand piled up by the wind. These mounds of sand are what protected the remains of the town, when it was destroyed in the 1811. The town is now considered to be an archaeological site.

It was known for pearl fishing and trading in the 18th and early 19th centuries. It’s also home to a historic Qatari military fortress that was built in 1938, which has now been turned into a museum . It is open to the public daily except on Fridays and Saturdays, and entrance is free of charge.

Al Sadd

Al Sadd district was named after a local plant known as “Sadd.”

The plant is widely distributed in the coastal and eastern region of Qatar, and grows abundantly in this area.

Al Sadd
Al Sadd

The area is one of Doha’s most congested districts, and has seen several changes in the past few years, namely due to Doha Metro construction.

Al Wakrah

The Arabic word “wakar” has been defined in “Mujam Al Bildan” (an Arabic dictionary for different locations) as “a bird’s nest.”

Al Wakrah
Al Wakrah

The citizens living there said that a hill where many birds nested used to exist in the area, according to CGIS. Today, Al Wakrah municipality has become one of Qatar’s significant areas.

Muaither

The geographic name is derived from the Arabic word “Mathrr,” which refers to a small meadow where Bedouins kept their animals away from their houses.

Cactus at Muaither Park
Cactus at Muaither Park

The small meadow accompanies a larger one, and usually derives its name from it. So, the district was called Muaither.

Abu Dhalouf

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The Arabic word “abu” means “father” in English, also used like the word mother to describe an area that has specific geographic features and traits.

Here, the word “Dhalouf,” which is a derivative of the Arabic word “dhulfa,” means the arch-shaped ends of the saddle used for riding camels. The area consists of a saddle-shaped hill from which Abu Dahlouf region derives its geographic name.

Naming process

As Qatar continues to grow, another MMUP-affiliated committee now oversees the “naming of areas and neighborhoods, streets and fields” in the country.

The committee, which was established in 2003, presents its suggestions to the Central Municipal Council (CMC), which then submits them with any changes to the Minister of Municipality and Urban Planning, who makes the final decision on the matter.

Over the years, there have been several changes to the composition of the committee, which now consists of 10 members, including:

  • Three representatives of the MMUP;
  • Two CMC representatives;
  • One representative of the Supreme Education Council;
  • One representative from the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage;
  • One representative of the Public Works Authority (Ashghal); and
  • Two representatives of the private sector, as chosen by the MMUP minister.

Police

Aside from geographic locations, Qatar government officials have carefully chosen the names of its police and internal security forces (ISF), to reflect a positive image in the minds of the public.

Lekhwiya
Lekhwiya

The term used for police in most Arab countries is “shorta.” However, in Qatar some police are called “Al Fazaa,” which in Khaleeji dialect means, “to quickly help and support anyone in need,” and which indicates “chivalry and gallantry,” according to the Ministry of Interior’s (MOI) official website.

“That’s why the Ministry of Interior chose this name as an equivalent to the police department that performs security and humanitarian duties around the clock to serve society and its individuals,” MOI added.

Meanwhile, the term “ISF” often sparks fear among residents under some autocratic regimes. But in Qatar, this force is called “Lekhwiya,” which citizens of Gulf countries say means “brother” in their dialect.

Lekhwiya was established in 2003 and reports directly to Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Its responsibilities include standing against attacks, monitoring illegal immigration, dispersing riots, illegal gatherings and protests, and securing the processions of the royal family, the state’s guests and other senior officials.

So, what’s in a name? A lot it seems, in a country like Qatar. Thoughts?

40 COMMENTS

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Anonymouse
Anonymouse
5 years ago

Very useful, would have liked to learn some of these years ago.

Mr. Reason.
Mr. Reason.
5 years ago

Informative.

Pete
Pete
5 years ago

I always chuckle when I see Al Fazaa. Reminds me of the fuzz.

Observant One
Observant One
5 years ago
Reply to  Pete

I chuckle because I know they are chuckling away because they do nothing and get paid for it!

Ali
Ali
5 years ago
Reply to  Pete

Shhh… they will deport you!

Salman Alansari
Salman Alansari
5 years ago

Dohanews, can you point me to the database in Arabic, as far as I know, Al-sadd atually means Dam referring to small dam used to exist there to block rain water.

Thanks for the effort

Andrew
Andrew
5 years ago

I was going to ask the same question. I had also heard the story that there used to be wild dogs/wolves near the dam. Perhaps this is the origin of the Al Sadd club mascot?

Nuremburg
Nuremburg
5 years ago

I second this, the explanation of origin sounds dubious. I too thought it referred to a former dam. Then again, it could just be one of those random, eyes-closed names they seem to give to many streets and districts.

Cerebus
Cerebus
5 years ago
Reply to  Nuremburg

Could be the dam was named for the same thing not that it means Dam? Google translate has this as Sada.

ShabinaKhatri
ShabinaKhatri
5 years ago

Hi, the link is here http://www.baladiya.gov.qa/cui/index.dox (click on ‘delilah’ in the top left corner). The origins we ran are based on what the government project found. I’m not surprised to hear everyone doesn’t agree 100 percent on where the names come from – probably not an exact science. 🙂

Simon
Simon
5 years ago
Reply to  ShabinaKhatri

Why (why, why) Delilah?

Michkey
Michkey
5 years ago
Reply to  Simon

I misread your name as Samson

Abdulrahman
Abdulrahman
5 years ago

Thank you for pointing this out. Some people in my family were among the 1st to settle that area, and according to them there was indeed a small dam that gave the area its name.

A_qtr
A_qtr
5 years ago

I agree Doha city planners are shabby at best for a city which tripled in size in the last decade .. We should take some ques from Cairo

Cerebus
Cerebus
5 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

You mean to move the capital? 😉

dubious
dubious
5 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

Having recently been playing `Cities: Skyline` and building my own city, it is definitely not as easy as it looks, especially handling rapid growth.
There is even a way to import real world topography and road networks into Cities so you can have a go at “fixing” Doha and Cairo!

Rose Thorne
Rose Thorne
5 years ago

Nice to read something interesting and related to local specificities. What a refreshing change from the usual journalistic onslaught – also valid of course, but this article provides a much needed break from the standard DN stories. It would be good to have more pieces on local history and customs to lighten up the daily load of traffic complaints, weather issues, World Cup revelations, etc.

ChaTo
5 years ago
Reply to  Rose Thorne

If you want to hear that everything is awesome and everybody is happy, that’s easy, just read The Peninsula. If you want both the good and the bad, go to Doha News. I really like Doha News, so far they’ve been brave and honest and I hope they continue like this.

al-Lalal
al-Lalal
5 years ago

This is a great article, kudos to DN. Let’s see if someone would still manage to bring kafala and tailgating into the picture.

Nuremburg
Nuremburg
5 years ago

I recently tried to piece together the districts of Doha on Wikipedia, as the complete lack of district maps can make the city confusing to some foreigners, but gave up when I came to the 10 districts listed as “New District 50, New District 51”, etc with no other information available. Why is there not a clearly defined list of the “755 districts, each with their own distinct names” which is easily accessible for English speakers? I’m pretty sure it would be relevant to most people living in them…no?

Sarah010
Sarah010
5 years ago

Interesting..thanks! Do Barwa & Karwa have any meaning? Also, doesn’t Fazaa also mean fright/scare, or am I mistaken?

sicti
sicti
5 years ago
Reply to  Sarah010

I think Karwa means journey

MarkDoha
MarkDoha
5 years ago
Reply to  Sarah010

From what I understand, Barwa refers to the traditional deed of ownership for a piece of property.

Ali
Ali
5 years ago
Reply to  Sarah010

Barwa
Guyanese term for good for nothing , waste
Source: Urban Dictionary

Ms. Hala
5 years ago

The term “AlRayyan” also means “gates of heaven” in Arabic which I assumed was the reasoning behind the name. Interesting to learn that it has another meaning which is quite relevant to the state. #Kudos for this lovely piece.

sicti
sicti
5 years ago

I know Wikipedia is not a trustful source but their description of Doha is – Doha (Arabic: الدوحة‎‎, ad-Dawḥa or ad-Dōḥa, literally: “the big tree”) ….so what is it? Roundness? Big Tree?

Abdulrahman
Abdulrahman
5 years ago
Reply to  sicti

In Arabic, Doha means the big tree, though I have never heard it used as such.

We know of a number of round bays that have the name Doha attached to them, so, round bay seems to be the more accurate one in this case.

sicti
sicti
5 years ago
Reply to  Abdulrahman

Thank you Sir!

Ali
Ali
5 years ago

I wonder who chose the name of “Umm el Ghab” area?

“…one thing that has clearly been given a lot of thought is how places and groups are named here.
…In an effort to better understand the naming of some of Qatar’s oldest areas, the Centre for Geographic Information Systems (CGIS), which is affiliated with the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning (MMUP), launched a project in 1996 to survey and officially document geographic names.”

I can clearly see how much thought they put into it lol…
Here’s a pen, here’s a paper… now write down what you call this place?
Umm Salal Ali.
Ok Thank you, next…

A lot of thought is always put into things that have to do with Qatar’s PR and Image in the outside world. But internally we are still waiting for the Sponsorship laws that were suppose to change a decade ago.

Abdulrahman
Abdulrahman
5 years ago
Reply to  Ali

I take it you knew the meaning and the reasoning behind the names of the districts before reading the article? Good for you; however, I’d wager that most people, especially expats who don’t speak Arabic didn’t.

So, is there a point for your rant, or does the once in blue moon positive story ruin your mode?! If you wish to complain on the lack of progress on reforming immigration and labor laws, there are plenty of stories on DN for you to do just that.

Ali
Ali
5 years ago
Reply to  Abdulrahman

Clearly you missed the point. The point is they put thought into things that are secondary and why now? This should’ve been done centuries ago not now, their thoughts should be put into things that are of prime concern.
Most Expats who don’t speak Arabic care about making money in Qatar or well getting underpaid and couldn’t careless about what the names mean.
I don’t really know what positive story are you talking about? How does this have any sort of positive impact?
P.S. its Mood not mode.

Talal Mousa
Talal Mousa
5 years ago
Reply to  Ali

I happen to disagree Ali. My thoughts are as follows: Why take the time to even write such an Article? it is a waste of time, and energy. Doha News, put your pen to more use or in this case keyboard…

Abdulrahman
Abdulrahman
5 years ago
Reply to  Talal Mousa

And yet, you put the time in both reading the story and commenting on it!

Abdulrahman
Abdulrahman
5 years ago
Reply to  Ali

“Clearly you missed the point” Have I now!

“This should’ve been done centuries ago not now” Yeah, “centuries” ago, many of these places didn’t have these names, and people probably didn’t think there was a need to do it or maybe they had more pressing matters.

Are you telling me that if I went around the world and asked people to explain to me the meaning behind the names of the different states, provinces, districts, etc. where they live, everybody will know the answer?! Doubtful.

I happen to have many expat friends who keep asking questions like; what is the reasoning behind the colors of the Qatari flag? What is the meaning of the names of the various families? And yes, what is the meaning behind the names of the different places around Qatar.

Thanks for the correction.

Ali
Ali
5 years ago
Reply to  Abdulrahman

Cool.

Misha
Misha
5 years ago
Reply to  Ali

What makes you think this was not a difficult job or you just like to assume because it is Qatar?

Some of the names were probably ambiguous in terms of the boundary of the area and I am sure that there were conflicting names or perhaps variations. Then one has to gather many government stakeholders to discuss these official names to make sure there are no objections and so decision makers can approve them. If you have ever worked on a project that involved the input of various ministries you would know how frustrating this can be.

Although this article, gives the impression that this project was done to find the history of the names, i’m pretty sure the scope was much wider than that. CGIS had to survey all the areas of Qatar and delineate the boundaries and input it into the GIS software which as a result of this work has given us the zones and the creation of those blue address plates on the buildings. If you were in Doha before we had these areas named with official signs you would know how much of a pain it was to give directions to a house or find your way around an unfamiliar area.

The CGIS has created an extensive database of information that is used to make many different kinds of maps that is valuable to projects in Qatar.

So no they didn’t just ask people what the name is and write it down.

Ali
Ali
5 years ago
Reply to  Misha

I wonder how difficult it is to name places in a country thats less than 50 year old country. Even if we were to talk about beyond 50 years its not a huge country. For crying out loud it takes 3 hours to get from north to south. Plus its not like it was something to enhance the country, it was a necessity that was way over due… They started in 96? Seriously? In 90s countries were already using GPS and we were asking our friends to meet up near Ramada signal or Toyota signal lol.
I was born here and I have seen blue signs ever since I was a kid, they were there 23 years ago as well (as far as I can remember).

Misha
Misha
5 years ago
Reply to  Ali

Again it is not the naming that is the problem as much as it would probably be the agreeing on the names and making it official. I have been involved in a project similar to this (not for cgis) and usually these things get postponed and then picked up again because of someone’s decision that it is not a priority or that a decision can’t be made so it is tabled to the next meeting or not everyone is present that needs to be.

You were born here yet you try to compare Qatar’s development to the countries you are referring to that have been developed for far longer, have the technological resources, time, history, education and human resources to have gotten where they are. Wealth is a key ingredient but not the only ingredient to successfully develop a country.

The blue plates you are referring to 23 yrs ago were not on every building and it only had a building or house number. The ones I am referring to have been out for a few years that have the building number, street number and zone number, that system is new.

Ali
Ali
5 years ago
Reply to  Misha

You know better I guess. Thanks for the resource.

Michkey
Michkey
5 years ago

A nice informative article. I’d love to read more stuff on local culture and their historical backgrounds.

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