Literature is an integral part of any civilization. It can serve as a historical reference, and it is an indicator of the progress and advancements of any nation, as it is a record that lives forever. Literature is a legacy that is passed from generation to generation, and it immortalizes its writers. That is why Aisha Jassim Al-Kuwari dreamed of establishing a Qatari publishing house that would nurture Qatari writers and enrich Qatari literature. In this interview, she tells us about her long experience in contributing to Qatar’s literature. So, who is Aisha Jassim Al-Kuwari?
I am a daughter of Qatar; I was raised in it and educated in its schools. After finishing high school, I continued my higher education at the College of Education at Qatar University. Once I obtained my Bachelor’s, I continued my studies to receive a master’s in Media and Communication. Currently, I am a Ph.D. student, and soon I will be defending my thesis. I attempt to give back to this land that has given me so much. I have been through a lot of posts in my career. An important position that I have held was working as a cultural researcher at the Department of Cultural Relations in the Ministry of Education (formerly). After working for 15 years, I became the Director of the Department of Communication and Public Information at the Supreme Council of Education. Later, I resigned from my work in education and moved to work in another field, the field of culture. I have worked as a cultural expert, and I was also the Secretary of the State’s Prize for Children’s Literature. I continued working in the field of culture until I started working as a consultant in the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, my current job in 2021. However, there is another field that I work in other than the governmental sector. Like any human being, I too have my personal dream that I wanted to turn into a reality. Especially if that dream becomes a part of our soul, it becomes a goal we put every effort into achieving. My dream was to establish a Qatari publishing house, and thanks to Allah, that dream became a reality as I founded Roza publishing house.
What inspired you to establish Roza publishing house?
This dream is the outcome of me being a writer myself. Due to the lack of publishing houses, the Qatari writers were had no choice but to publish their books through publishing houses outside Qatar. I have published two books through a publishing house in Kuwait, and so did many of my colleagues who had to reach out to international publishing houses to release their books. It was obvious that the reason behind that was our lack of Qatari publishing houses that nurture Qatari writers, nurture their talents, and publish their writings. As Qatari writers, we lacked information regarding the publishing laws, the rights of the publishing house, and the writer’s rights. So then we published through houses outside Qatar, we were bound by the laws of the publishing house’s country, and those laws might not be compatible with the laws in Qatar. Over time, we, as writers, became more knowledgeable about those things, and we started to understand what the writer’s intellectual property means, but these things we learned with practice. All these reasons led me to dream about establishing a publishing house.
In 2013, I remember I was at Doha International Book Fair looking for Qatari publishing houses, but they were not many. And I felt our dire need for a publishing house that represents Qatar and its ambitions. Another goal was to enrich the Arabic literature with books inspired by the Qatari culture and environment. At Dar Roza, we were able to publish books that represent the Qatari society. We published children’s books that explain and illustrate Islamic teachings and values. As a society, we are rich in customs and culture, and we do not need to bring the stories of other cultures to fill a gap in ours because the gap does not exist. We also have Qatari writers who write in English, such as Kumam Al Maaded, who has written several books in English, which were later translated into Arabic. The Arabic translation of the book was a success too.
Dar Roza does not only publish books but has become like a cultural hub because we host a monthly seminar with the title: “The Narrator’s House”. In those seminars, we discuss different literary works, regardless of the publishing house. Sometimes we even invite the writer of the book to take part in the discussion. Those seminars are quite successful among avid readers.
Can you tell us more about the books you have published as a writer?
I have written two books. The first one was in 1997 titled: “Kalemat Fe Hubb Al-Watan” (words of love for the country) and it was the result of my work with on a radio show called: “Watani Al-Habib, Sbah Al Khair” (good morning, my beloved country). Each episode of the show would start with a few sentences expressing love towards the country and I was responsible about writing those. Later, Qatar Airways suggested that we publish them in a book that will then be distributed on its flights. It was a dream coming true, and to date, I still have a small number of that book. My second book is titled: “Fosool” (seasons), and then I wrote, “Sidrat Shamma” (Shamma’s sidra). These were two books that I published through a publishing house in Kuwait.
Why did choose the name “Roza” for the publishing house?
Roza is an old-fashioned Qatari name; one of my aunts was called Roza, may she rest in peace. I wanted to name the publishing house Roza because it has deep roots in Qatar’s history, and I wanted the name to come alive today and present this old- fashioned name on an international platform. I feel like I have achieved this goal because when the publishing house participated in international book fairs, many people were intrigued by the name and wanted to know its meaning. For example, when we went to Moscow, they told us that they also have the name Roza in their language and for them, it meant “the bright sun”. This became a common reaction in many countries that we went to as the name Roza is present in different languages with different meanings, but they are all beautiful. Regardless of what the name means in those countries, I make sure to explain its relation to Qatar and Qatar’s history. I have noticed that recently people have started naming their daughters Roza again and it is gaining popularity which I makes me very happy. So, I chose the name Roza because it combines the tradition and the modern.
Could you tell us about your journey in establishing Roza publishing house?
I went through many stages in my journey to establish Roza publishing house. It started back in 2014 when I opened a registry at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. I was told that my registry for a publishing house was the first of its kind. But, it took me two years and a lot of hard work to receive the license in 2016. I spent the two years in an attempt to convince the Ministry of Culture of the importance of establishing a Qatari publishing house. We officially started working and advertising the house in April 2017. The announcement of the publishing house was met with great enthusiasm from people. On the first day, we received about 12 requests for publication, and I remember how surprised I was with the number of requests. I thought maybe some emails were sent more than once, but after reflection, I think that was proof of our need for publishing houses. In our first two years, we used to mentor the writers. We would check their work, print, and publish their work without asking the writers for any fee. Because our main goal was to support the Qatari writers, and to date, we support new Qatari writers and those we believe have a bright future. All thanks to Allah, the publishing house is completing its fourth year in 2021. During those years, we published about 188 books in every genre, and our house hosts 80 Qatari writers. We have books for children, young adults, short stories, novels, educational, cultural, self-help books, and even research. We look forward to being present at the Doha International Book Fairs, and we have participated in exhibitions in Frankfurt, London, Moscow, Kuwait, and Muscat. Soon we will participate in a book fair in Riyadh, and of course, we will participate in the Doha International Book Fair, which is where Roza publishing house wants to be. The journey indeed began with difficulties, but goals and dreams will always bring hurdles with them. We need to remember that we will face people who will disagree with us, and we might face circumstances that will force us to stop pursuing some goals. But we have to accept that as a part of life. Every goal we want to achieve will set a challenge for us. The publishing house, for example, may not bring us a lot of money, but its purpose is not only financial gain; it is an investment for the future, and that is what matters the most.
How was your experience working at the Supreme Council of Education? (as of 2021, it is called the Ministry of Education and Higher Education)
My first job was at the Supreme Council of Education. That is where I got to experience a lot of different positions. I started as a researcher in culture, then became a senior researcher. Then I was the assistant for the Head of the Department of Information and Documentation in the National Committee for Education, Culture, and Science. Later, I became the Head of the same department. During my work at that time, I had to communicate with many international organizations, such as The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ICESCO), and the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALESCO). Because I had to work with them at the beginning of my career, it was an excellent opportunity for me to see how these organizations work and find the best approach to communicate with them. The Supreme Council of Education provided me with opportunities to attend international conferences, which contributed to building and refining my personality. It was a great opportunity to empower me and enrich my work experience. At that time, the officials in the Council emphasized that the employee receive the required training courses and attend various events and conferences. I believe that all these things enriched my personality and increased my cumulative experience. It was the place where I learned the most. Before I took over the Department of Communication and Media, I was the CEO of the Education Excellence Awards, which means I was the first person responsible for this award. It was an excellent opportunity to learn a lot of principles on excellence, So, I learned that academic excellence is not the only criterion for excellence, but an excellent student is also someone who starts social initiatives. I’ve met many of those outstanding students, and many of them are still in touch with me. Some of them have become a part of Roza publishing house. I wholeheartedly believe that jobs should add value to the person by enriching them with different experiences. I will not stay in a job that does not enrich me, it is not the end of the world if one changes their job. There will always be new paths and opportunities. Life is not limited or bound to a particular job or place, life is full of opportunities. That is why I always advise young people to knock on all doors, and I assure them that failing once or twice or more is not the end of their dreams. We learn from our failures, and it is this path that will lead us to our goals. I also support the idea that everyone should experience different things, but only for a period of their life. There is a period in our life that calls us to adventure, and that is when we need to be brave and try different things. But it is important that we experience the things that will help us grow. So we should not try new things for the sake of experiencing new thing only. I think after having different experiences a person can decide what they like and what field they are interested in. I believe that each one of us is their own compass that should guide them to what they desire and think about the advantages and disadvantages of every path, and based on their finding, they can evaluate themselves, their decisions and choices as nobody knows us like the way we know ourselves.
How does your time at Qatar Radio fit in your journey?
At a time in my life, I loved listening to various radio stations, so much so that I bought short wave detectors to get to the frequencies of some radio stations. I was listening to Tokyo Arabic Radio, Monte Carlo Radio, and BBC Radio, and I would write to them too, and I still have those letters . I believe that a good speaker is a good listener, and a good writer is a good reader. That is why I liked to listen and focus on the way they present programs on the radio. I even had a short work experience at Qatar Radio, and I had the intention to work in the media field, but I was busy with other work, so it never happened. But the radio had, and still has, a significant impact on who I am today. I always say that I was a journalist in the making from a very young age, but it is a project that did not see the light. I participated in the school’s morning gatherings where we would prepare topics and present them. Presenting in the morning gatherings was my first experience with media. We also had a wall magazine at the school, so we, the students, would compete to prepare content by researching in library’s books and then writing simple articles for the wall magazine. I feel like I am a graduate of media from the school of wall magazines and morning gatherings in school. I also wrote articles for the children’s magazine Majid magazine. They even appointed me as a representative. Those were simple participations, but I cherish them a lot, and I still have those articles because it is my legacy. But the main reason why I did not study media in the university is that the major was not available at that time at Qatar University, and the circumstances did not allow me to travel abroad to study. Regardless, I was keen to participate in student activities and attend courses and workshops. The first article I published in the local newspaper “Al Raya” was when I was a high school student. Indeed, I may now laugh at what I wrote at the time, but I am not ashamed of them because it is part of my experience. Media was and still is, in my blood, despite not pursuing it academically, which only happened in recent years. I had worked in preparing programs for Qatar Radio and Qatar Television, but I had to stop due to my other work commitments. We need to determine our priorities and work accordingly. Today, Roza publishing house is the outlet through which I convey my goals to society and the world. For me, it is an investment in knowledge and the minds of human beings, and we nurture and mentor young writers. It is a long-term investment that will be passed down to generations.
What was your family’s reaction to your talents and ambitions?
I come from a family that encouraged and nurtured my talents. Although my parents are illiterate, life taught them what we did not learn through schools. My family was very keen on our education and eager to nurture our talents. I always told them about my desire to participate in various research and attend courses and workshops. I was a bit different than my siblings, but they all accepted my differences with open arms and encouraged my interest in the media. One of the memories that I will never forget is my participation in a competition to document heritage, and I won first place. So, my father, may he rest in peace, wanted to go and receive the prize instead of me. He showed his pride in my success and came home wearing the medal, and all this happened in the period when women in Qatar were not putting their pictures out in public. Today, I insist on mentioning my father’s name with my name, such things were considered shameful in the past. however, there was a funny incident that happened, and it changed me. One day, one of the highly regarded women in our family visited us, and she told my father how I was mentioning my name: Aisha Al-Kuwari, and putting my picture in the newspapers, and she was angry. To be honest, I was eavesdropping on them. So, my father called me, and I was afraid of him, and I was sure that he would stop me from writing. But he told me to write my full name in front of that woman as Aisha Bint Jassim Al-Kuwari so that everyone knows who my father is. After that incident, my life differed completely because parents’ confidence in their children, especially in their daughters, pushes them forward. All thanks to Allah, our society supports our ambition and understands that women are not half of society but more than half. That is the period that I think of when I feel tired and desperate because it always fuels me to continue and do more.
Can you tell us about your doctoral thesis?
I am a Ph.D. student at Tunis University at the Institute of Press and Information Sciences. My research combines media and volunteering because I have worked in volunteering for a long time. The last work I did in regards to volunteering was my position as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Qatar Voluntary Center three years ago. So, I wanted to combine the two areas that I love in my doctoral thesis. The research is titled: “The role of modern social media in enhancing the value of volunteering among students of Qatar University”. I identified the target group to be students of Qatar University and collected samples from 200 students. The research aims to study the extent to which social media can increase the rate of volunteering among young people. Today, many voluntary institutions use these platforms to attract volunteers and promote their volunteer services because these are the youth’s platforms. Volunteering depends greatly on the youth population. Children and experts might indeed volunteer, but the percentage of young people volunteering is the highest. The thesis was submitted to the university and will be discussed soon. I have been working on this thesis since last 3 years. One of the problems I faced initially was the lack of sources about social media and volunteering. Although volunteering is a part of our identity as Muslims, we lack research and resources in these two areas. So, I hope that my thesis will serve as a resource in the future.
Why is volunteering important to you?
Volunteering is a crucial part of my life, and my journey in volunteering started at a young age. My first volunteer work was with the Qatar Red Crescent during high school. My time in high school was full of growth, because it is then when I wanted to prove my presence and show my talents to the world. All thanks to Allah, my family nurtured my desires and ambitions. When I started volunteering, I loved it and found myself in it. A volunteer is an entrepreneur and a person that seeks opportunities to participate in the community, and I found these qualities in myself. I was volunteering even when I was a university student. After graduating, I joined the Qatar Voluntary Center, and then I was appointed a member of the Center’s Board of Directors and continued to be a member for five years. Then I was appointed president of the board. This was an opportunity for me to transfer my experience from individual work to organized institutional work. Our idea in the Council was to move from working for young people to working with young people. So, we opened the door to young people to present any initiatives that support volunteering. We would adopt those initiatives and launch them. We are like an incubator for volunteer work, and this is the right way for working in fields that concern young people. We should not work for them but with them, as our young people are full of ambitious ideas. They can turn the ideas into reality, so we were keen to open the way for them, and I continue to participate in volunteer work to this day as I try to create teams to volunteer. I believe it is my duty as a member of society to encourage volunteering, especially among the new generation.
What is your advice for women in Qatar?
Arm yourself with knowledge because knowledge is a woman’s weapon. There are other weapons, such as religion and morality, but if we arm ourselves with all these, we will be able to put forward our ideas and discuss them, and we can face every obstacle and use it for our benefit.
- Interview written by Fatema Ahmad.
- Interview was edited to improve readability and flow.