Buthaina Mohammed Al Janahi
The Founder of Qalam Hebr
The first word revealed to our Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) was “read”, indicating its importance to Allah Almighty. The simple act of reading has built nations, while its absence destroyed empires. The role it plays in shaping societies is far from simple, and it cannot be replaced by anything else. In a country that has promoted education and elevated its community’s literacy skills, there is still a pressing need for further development. The development in question involves increasing the number of high-quality cultural seminars amongst the people. Even though such a task might seem impossible, ButhainaMohammed Al Janahi has proven that one can achieve this goal by being determined and persistent. Through her distinguished experience, Buthainais slowly changing the Qatari cultural scene. So, who is Buthaina Mohammed Al Janahi?
She is a fighter who has learned from the difficult stages in her life, which has helped her to stand on her feet and see the opportunities that life has offered her. People must always strive to catch the opportunities that are thrown their way, and must not let them pass. Life taught me to be Buthaina, who belongs to this community even with its different social classes and interests. There are many points in life that force you to stop and think; and yet, life continues on, and it may give you opportunities or something else entirely. In the face of all of this, this is Buthaina. I was a part of the first class that graduated with an International Affairs degree from Qatar University in 2010, and I later completed my Master’s degree in Gulf Studies. I established “Qalam Hebr ” for creative writing in 2018, and I am still working on it with my staff but at a slower pace than usual due to COVID-19. We are currently trying to create projects that are compatible with the current situation.
What attracted you to study International Affairs?
I was supposed to follow a scientific field following my graduation from a scientific school, and I even majored in chemical engineering at the beginning of my journey in Qatar University. With time though, my attention shifted towards political topics. I remember that my fondness for the subject began because of a lecture in physics. The professor gave us a physics question: If a car was traveling at a specific speed, and a fly was flying towards the car at such speed, what is the collision rate? I did not answer the question from a mathematical perspective, nor did I approach it from a physics angle. Rather, the philosophical side of my brain took over trying to rise above the inevitable fate of the fly. Certainly, the answer was not appropriate for a physics course in terms of arithmetic and setting the appropriate equations. As such, the professor reacted to my answer by stating that I do not belong to the engineering field, but rather to the diplomatic world. As such, he played a role in refocusing my interest in this field. Around that time, Qatar University opened the International Affairs department and offered an interesting range of courses. I decided to switch to that department, and graduated from the first class in the International Affairs program in 2010.
Have you always aspired to be a writer?
I entered the world of writing for two reasons: the first and main reason was my major at the university. Having studied International Affairs, I gained a philosophical and analytical sense of the world around me. I formed my own thinking style, and refined my writing skills. I have also been influenced by a talk show that I used to watch, where the host invited thinkers and intellectuals and asked them analytical and profound questions. I remember imagining myself in his place asking those questions that simulate the mind. The second reason stems from my personal desire to express myself, and my wish to learn more about the mechanics behind writing. I believe that by improving my writing skills I get a chance to refine many personal skills, and highlight the creativity in the cultural arena in all its forms.
What encouraged you to write in Al-Arab newspaper previously?
While majoring in International Affairs at Qatar University, which was taught in English, along with my educational background in Al-Bayan, which was also in English, I had an urgent desire to be part of society and become a leading figure in it. At that time, I was fond of reading articles and newspaper columns from various newspapers in the Gulf, even scientific columns. Over time, I found myself getting involved in that field, and I ended up opening a blog titled “Qatari Khawatir.” I only published one article in English, after that I promised myself not to write in English again and depreciate from the value of the Arabic language that is rich and full of meaning. I found that it was necessary to use this blog as a platform through which I learn to write in Arabic again to enter the field of local writing. My success rate in writing newspaper columns was not high compared to today, but I learned from every newspaper column I wrote. Each column was different from the other in terms of the method of presentation and the content, where some topics occupied a full page in the newspaper without effort or a clear objective, while some focus on the lessons and experiences I have gone through.
How was your experience in the local press?
The editorial team at the newspaper was cooperative, but the audit in the past is not even close to the quality of proofreading today. As such, I had articles full of errors that were published without proofreading, which taught me to check my articles and refine my writing skills. As for the topics that I used to write, most of my writings deal with issues related to society and culture. They also coincide from time to time with the issue of national identity, and I write about the obstacles we witness such as: health crises and their relationship to us, and how can we improve the student’s life? The topics that I have approached were mostly about lifestyle and fundamentals that were quite connected, and I would sometimes depend on sources to back up my argument even if what I wrote was short. I also verify and check more than once to ensure the argumentation of my articles. As for the language itself, I have learned a lot as the articles gave me a rich educational opportunity that increased my vocabulary and understanding of the language. This has made it easier for me to present unique content, and has taught me about the needs and interests of the readers and what may attract them. Although I have to admit, the level of interactions between the public and newspapers is low, and the content that is published is even lacking. For example, there were boring articles that lacked interesting presentation and were not contemporary, but the level of interest they received was great as they enjoyed a large number of responses and constructive criticism. On the other hand, some of my articles and other rich articles do not receive the same level of responses and constructive criticism. I still remember an article I wrote titled: “Messi and the Falcon”, and I published this article coinciding with Messi’s visit to Qatar and the photo they took of him with the falcon. In alignment with my national identity, I talked about the photo and how the falcon is not the only national symbol that the state of Qatar possesses. I wondered: Why whenever a foreigner visits us, the cultural identity that we offer them is usually limited to falcons and wearing “Ghitra”? The Qatari community lives on land and sea, so why do we only romanticize one cultural aspect? A reader interacted with my article and instead of discussing what I wrote or express constructive criticism, she attacked me on the basis that I know nothing about the Qatari identity and who am I to write about it. Further, she threatened to raise a complaint against me to the concerned authority. I was ready to welcome constructive criticism to my article and interact with it in a scientific and historical manner in a debate, yet that did not happen. Eventually, my experience in the newspaper gave me the opportunity to participate in the community as a Qatari writer in a national newspaper. With the evolvement of the topics that I wrote, they allowed me to observe the changes that society has passed through overtime, and my work is an archive of the changes that have occurred in relation to the national interests.
Could you please talk about your project “Qalam Hebr”?
I started writing a newspaper column in the Al-Arab Newspaper Qatar since 2012, and I noticed a huge gap in the cultural movement where it was limited to one institutional umbrella in the past. We did not realize that culture lives in every aspect of our life, and is reflected in the smallest details such as a cup of coffee. When we talk about culture today, we are talking about something that is very broad. Culture is made up of many things such as the love for arts and music, and the culture for reading has spread over the world, and so I wanted to transform this culture into a tangible thing that we can interact with directly. Instead of waiting for someone to tell us about celebrating our culture, why are there no individual initiatives where we celebrate our culture with the rest of society? Consequently, this new experience was an attempt to bridge the cultural gaps observed in Qatari society. I always wondered: What is missing from a community who’s main routine consists of going to a restaurant, or a café, or the cinema? And what should we do to attract young people to gatherings that give them everything they need along with important cultural additions? When the company was established, we insisted that it is not a publishing house, and not a voluntary organization. We focused on creating a foundation that was purely creative, as such we received many questions from the authorities about the nature of the company. The idea behind it is creative and innovative in terms of presenting and introducing creative writing platforms as a continuous gathering of talents and promising writers, and the number of questions we received proved how modern and scarce such a cultural initiative is. How many people are interested in the cultural field at the societal level? How many readers are interested? Who in the community knows a novelist? When we answer these questions, it appears that the local cultural scene is niche. Does this mean that the cultural arena is absent because the targeted group is small? Or, should I enrich it and introduce different categories that attract a larger group of people? This is a challenge, and we are still figuring out the nature of the cultural scene here. Yet we still strive to be a link and a bridge between the institutions and publishing houses, where we intend to activate the cultural movement by offering cultural events and creating a creative space that gives the individual an integrated concept of culture. We try to not limit our work to a small aspect such as a novel, drawing, song, or coffee, but rather place it under the same cultural umbrella.
Have you faced challenges in your professional or personal life?
The first challenge I faced in my personal life was the death of my parents, which has affected me greatly. They will not witness my successes, my marriage, and my accomplishments. Compared to everything that I have encountered in my life, the death of my parents was the biggest challenge that I went through and it still affects me. In the shadow of my parents’ death, every challenge that I have come to experience was not difficult at all. The stronger the person is, the easier the challenges are -even if they were meant to break them and push them back. In the end, it is important to remember that by overcoming the challenges that we face it becomes easier to go forward in life, even when we lose the most important people in our life. I have promised myself to always develop myself, and I remind myself that such development is not only for me, but for others as well. I am a mother of three children, and I have to be a good role model for them and show them that a person succeeds with diligence and effort. Life is not easy, and it is not luxurious either, it requires us to struggle and develop ourselves. What benefit does money hold if we do not have a sharp mind to maintain it? Life is a circle, sometimes you will raise to achieve great accomplishments, while other times you will live in a state of stability, and at times you will go down and stumble in life. Hence, we must learn how to adapt to the ups and downs of this circular and renewed life.
What is your advice for women in Qatar?
You have to continue learning, you have to refine your own skills and understand your personality. We live in a society where it’s difficult for individuals to thrive in the things they are passionate about, where they have to take into account their environment and what others accept and cannot accept, all in their attempt to reach a higher goal and portray a valuable message. It is necessary for us to offer back something that is useful to the society that matches the same level of enjoyment that we experience.
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