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Qatar’s quest to build a knowledge society
Dr Mohamud A. Verjee
14 March 2008
  • The fundamental reason for the pre-eminence of Islamic civilizations lay neither in accidents of history nor in acts of war, but rather in their ability to discover new knowledge, to make it their own, and to build constructively upon it. They became the Knowledge Societies of their time.
    – Mawlana Hazar Imam, Aga Khan University Convocation,
    Karachi, Pakistan, 2 December 2006

    A view of the downtown core of Doha, Qatar's capital city. Photo: Dr Mohamud A. Verjee
    A view of the downtown core of Doha, Qatar's capital city. Dr Mohamud A. Verjee

    The State of Qatar, an emirate in the Persian Gulf region, is reinventing itself into a knowledge society. Dependant on gas and oil as its main resources, the future prosperity of the emirate's population of 1.4 million will rely less on natural resources and more on its people. The need for an academic infrastructure was therefore evident.

    The leadership of the country has spared no effort in its quest for excellence in education. With a literacy rate already in the top percentiles for both men and women, Qatar is in a hurry – and is well on its way – to meet the challenges of a dynamically changing world.

    The Fanar Islamic Cultural Centre in Doha hosts a variety of Muslim cultural programmes. Photo: Dr Mohamud A. Verjee
    The Fanar Islamic Cultural Centre in Doha hosts a variety of Muslim cultural programmes. Dr Mohamud A. Verjee

    In 1995 the Emir of Qatar, His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, established the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development. Subsequently several of the world's leading universities were invited to establish campuses in the capital city of Doha. A unique hub covering some 2 500 acres called Education City arose, enabling both undergraduates and postgraduates to pursue high quality education and research in fields such as Medicine, Art, Design, Engineering, Business, Foreign Service, Islamic Studies and Computer Science.

    The commitment to education, and in particular the study of medicine is exemplified in the establishment of an endowment of USD $7.9 billion for a specialised teaching hospital due for completion by 2011, aptly named the Sidra Medical and Research Centre. The sidra tree – an icon of Qatari history and culture – is a beacon of learning and comfort in the desert. Traditionally the shade of the tree was a retreat for poets and scholars, who gathered beneath its branches to discuss and impart knowledge. The fruit, flowers and leaves of the sidra, whose deep roots allow it to flourish in harsh desert climates, were components in many traditional medicines.

    In 2001, the medical college of Cornell University in New York established the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar in Education City. It admits students to a six year medical course on a needs blind basis. The first graduates received their MD degrees in May 2008. Classes are growing in size with a future upper limit of 50 students in each year. Entrance standards are in keeping with the expectations of an Ivy League School. The main campus is based in Ithaca, New York.

    The Weill Cornell Medical College in Doha's Education City. Photo: Vobios (
    The Weill Cornell Medical College in Doha's Education City. Vobios (

    The college's undergraduate medical education curriculum in Qatar is run in parallel with that of its New York campus, with state of the art technology. Live videoconferencing links students and faculty, ensuring consistency and efficiency, while on-the-ground faculty members teach students directly. The instruction promotes family medicine, community care and patient-centred care. In addition to their teaching roles, clinical faculty are active in the Qatari medical community.

    The learning environment is shaped around problem solving, self-managed learning and mentorship. Cultural differences are respected and treated with sensitivity appropriate to a traditional Muslim society. Emphasis is also placed on volunteerism, and students have contributed to many local causes including Habitat for Humanity and health promotion at fairs for local working communities.

    The Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar is expected to open in November 2008. Photo: Abdurahman (
    The Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar is expected to open in November 2008. Abdurahman (

    Qatar also signalled its commitment to arts and culture with the establishment of a new Museum of Islamic Art. Due to open in November 2008, it will house artwork dating from the 7th to the 19th centuries. The museum was designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect I. M. Pei, who found inspiration in the design of the 9th century Mosque of Ahmad Ibn Tulun in Cairo.

    From a modest desert land that was relatively tranquil 40 years ago, Qatar has transformed itself into a thriving state that seeks to make a significant impact on the Gulf community. With a vision of a future built on the intellect of its people, the country is prepared to gracefully adapt to global change while maintaining its values and Islamic heritage.

    Dr Mohamud A. Verjee, BSc (Hons), MBChB, DRCOG, CCFP, formerly a Clinical Associate Professor in family medicine at the University of Calgary, Alberta, became the inaugural Director of Primary Care at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar in July 2007. Upon joining Cornell, he was invited to assume leadership as the Director of Clinical Skills, and overall Course Director for Medicine, Patients and Society in the second year MD curriculum. He is the first Ismaili Muslim on faculty at the College in Doha. Dr Verjee was also the recipient of a Continuing Achievement and Recognition of Excellence (CARE) Award in 2006, and a national Award of Excellence in 2007, both from the College of Family Physicians of Canada.