The Path of Light

The Path of Light

Philosophers Sheikha Mai Bint Mohammed Al Khalifa

The eternal summit of Jabal ad Dukhan has witnessed a lot, from the Stone Age flint tools and the mighty civilisation of Dilmun, known from the IIIrd millenium BC onwards, to the present-day events. Human life has a purpose, but its time is too short. So, we must manage to accomplish everything we’re supposed to without wasting a minute on tedious trifles. Of this, Sheikha Mai Bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, the President of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, is sure.

Heritage is my mission, while the challenges I have to face are many. However, I’ve got two lifebuoys: Sheikh Ibrahim Bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Centre for Culture and Research and the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities. For almost 20 years, we’ve been working on a big project – a serial pearl hunting museum called ‘Pearling, Testimony of an Island Economy’, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2012. Pearling was the basis of this country’s economy from around 2,000 BC to the early 1930s when it lost business sense due to the pearl cultivation in Japan. The Pearling Path consists of three oyster beds in the northern waters of Bahrain, a segment of the coast, the seafront Bu Mahir Fort in the southern tip of Muharraq Island, and 17 buildings in the historical section of Muharraq connected by a 3.5-km visitor pathway.


 The Path presents a lot of information about the pearling industry. Starting on the seashore from where divers would go pearl hunting, it takes visitors to the Visitors Centre and down to the houses once inhabited by people involved in the pearling business. There are actually two Information Centres, one of them designed by a famous Swiss architect and publicised by international topical journals. The construction of The Path is to finish by the end of the next year, while 12 January 2022 is the Sheikh Ibrahim Center 20th anniversary.

The sphere of culture is always underfinanced, so working for the good of society does not pay. In this respect, life, alas, is unfair. That’s why I have to attract private investors to help me make my dreams come true. That’s how I realised my first project —  Qal’at al-Bahrain Site Mueseum, i.e., Bahrain Fort. It’s a museum of our ancient history, from the 6,000-year-old Dilmun civilisation to the Hellenistic period, and a good starting point for a tour of our cultural and historical heritage sites.

I love Manama with its new buildings, but my heart’s always in its Old Town – the cradle of my nation. We’re doing a lot to restore its beauty with a team of Italian artists, working on a mosaic minaret of Al Fadel Mosque at the moment.

Muharraq is my favourite place, and I’ve had its centre revived, starting with my grandfather’s house and ending up with 28 buildings, each carrying out a special mission. Among them are the Archeology Department, a children’s library, a research centre, a music hall, and exhibition galleries.

We wish to attract more attention to the problem of cultural tourism. Separating tourism from culture really saddened me. If you invite tourists to visit your country, you cannot expect them to be attracted by hotels and shopping malls alone, for those are the same everywhere. It’s your national identity, memory, and history that make your country attractive. I’ve always advocated this approach. We must put things back in their proper places and make our culture the backbone of our tourist industry.

Nowadays, women have an essential role to play in our society. My department wholly depends on responsible and hard-working women, managing to accomplish many tasks simultaneously. Our unique history has made our society different from the rest of the Muslim world. The women of our small island have always been strong and independent. The men would go to sea to hunt for pearls, and their wives would stay on shore and keep all social life under their control. When in 1899, an American mission opened a school here, its first pupils were girls. Our women started participating in municipal elections as soon as they were introduced in this country. Bahrain is truly special. In our families, girls are valued more than boys. We do not do it for appearances’ sake, but because it’s natural for us.


I never try to indulge in philosophising but do everything at my heart’s behest. There are two drivers in my life — love and anger. I feel angry if I’m dissatisfied with something. That means I will do my best to change it for the better. For example, abandoned houses can become precious pearls if you give them your love, time, effort, respect, and creativity. Loving my country with all my heart, I do just that, making her more beautiful. It’s not even a matter of my choice. Having written my first book, I did not plan to write another six or seven, and having had the first house restored, had no idea I would end up with 28 in total.

The energy of love is born when your dearest and nearest are by your side. My father inspired me to write my first book. We were very close, and he meant a lot to me. He was always my source of support and inspiration, giving me love and confidence that my undertakings would be a success. And I must tell you, my amazing seven-year-old granddaughter has already stolen my heart. The film we’re making for the Project’s 20th anniversary is to feature her. She’s my namesake and lots of fun, especially when saying, ‘Fancy that! Your name’s the same as mine!’ Mai is peart and intriguing. When I ask her to take care of my houses when I’m gone, she looks at me and says, ‘I’d rather take care of you because you are more important!’


For the anniversary of the Center in January 2022, we expect guests from Turkey, Russia, Egypt, and the rest of the world. I hope to see passionate and caring people sharing our joy at this special celebration.

I also dream of establishing a museum of modern art, for which I need 40 million Bahrain dinars (1 BD = 200.32 roubles — Editor’s note). Another dream of mine is to establish a permanent headquarters for the centre for all the UNESCO Arab Regional Center for World Heritage. Opening a children’s museum is in my plans too. And naturally, I want to have the seawater in Manama again. So, there are still many things to do and no time to waste.