Every evening, men and women gather at the majlis, one of Qatar’s most preserved and practiced Arab tradition.
Upon first look, a traditional majlis, a tent or building with carpet-covered floor seating, might seem like an outdated ancient tradition to foreigners. However, there’s much more technology and luxury to these assemblies than meets the eye.
For thousands of years, Arabs have practiced the tradition of hosting majalis, a large get together purposed to host and entertain family and friends. To someone not familiar with Arab and Middle Eastern traditions, it might seem awfully odd to not receive visitors in the main house, but the tradition’s history itself explains it.
Back before the oil boom and modernization of the Arab peninsula, many communities lived in tents or basic clay houses. For two main reasons, these houses were not very fit to receive guests: One, the homes were relatively small to host a big gathering. And two, Arab culture does not allow non-related men and women to mingle.
Logically, setting up a big tent dedicated to receiving guests and family members was a great idea.
Over the centuries, the tents became more luxurious and started including windows, big screen TVs and air conditioning. And while many chose to replace the tents with more permanent buildings, their interiors remained pretty much the same.
The tradition of hosting/attending a majlis remains one of the most widely practiced traditions in Qatar. They are used on special occasions, like weddings and Eid, as well as for more casual gatherings, like over a football match or chitchat.
Qataris take much pride in their majlis, as it is a representation of their hospitality and generosity. Therefore, there are certain etiquette guests are expected to follow.
If you happen to be invited to a majlis, make sure you say “Al Salam Aleikoum” as you enter, loud enough for everyone to hear, and proceed to shake the hand of everyone attending, starting with the head of the house (usually the eldest member of the family).
Shoes are generally taken off before entering a majlis, and seating is on the floor. There are cushions and pillows for you to get comfortable, but whatever you do, don’t sit in a way that exposes the palms of your feet to anyone.
Expect to be served drinks, fruits and sweets. Over and over again. You should accept anything you’re being served, and always with your right hand.
Other than this, it’s as simple as keeping friendly manners and a display of respect and gratitude to your host. We hope that everyone gets the chance to experience this part of Qatari culture at least once.