This is an important part of Emirati hospitality and is done differently in every household
The legendary Emirati hospitality becomes even more evident during the holy month of Ramadan. The whole of UAE transforms into one giant majlis, a traditional sitting room where Emiratis welcome guests. During Ramadan, the majlis serves as a place for the whole family to come together for Iftar and end their fast.
With this holy month being the first in four years without any Covid-19 restrictions, the majlis has been thrown open for friends, family and loved ones. You will find a majlis in malls, shopping markets and even in Global Village.
Eman Al Suwaidi is looking forward to hosting a majlis this year.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic, a lot of restrictions and boundaries were set up,”
“I am glad that none of those will be there this year.”
For Hamad Al Hammadi, Ramadan is a time to disconnect from his busy life and spend time with his family.
“I am married, and I live in a separate home,”
“But many days during Iftar, I spend time with my family and siblings. We all gather there and enjoy our meals together.”
Eman said that sharing food was also a central part of Ramadan.
“In Islam, there is a belief that the seventh house from yours is considered as a neighbour,”
“So, we would always send food to all the neighbours’ homes during Ramadan. And in addition to that there would be other friends and extended family who would come to the majlis. So, Ramadan is like a festive time where we meet and spend time with friends and family members.”
Hamad says he has been to several kinds of majlis.
“Some are very intimate with only family members,”
“Others are quite extensive with friends and friends of friends. When it is with friends, a lot of different topics are discussed. Sometimes we talk about the latest football match. At other times we talk about politics or some news development.”
In recent times, commercial majlis have popped up all over town for Ramadan. This year at Global Village, there is a 'Majlis of the World' that offers an extra special experience for families and friends to come together and enjoy. At Nakheel Mall and Ibn Battuta, tiny majlis spaces will give visitors plenty of picture-perfect moments. Deerfields mall in Abu Dhabi is hosting a majlis including delicacies such as luqaimat, kunafa, and more.
For Eman, the word majlis evokes a wealth of memories.
“My mother’s grandmother Hessa used to live in Ras Al Khaimah, and she used to have a huge majlis,”
“In those days, majlis was a way of living. Even if you had small bedrooms, your majlis would be huge. My great-grandmother’s friends used to come from Abu Dhabi and from the border of Oman and they all gathered together in the majlis. They would stay overnight and sleep there as well. The majlis was the extension of Emirati hospitality. It was like our hearts - open, expansive and welcoming.”
According to the Emirati business coach, the majlis was off-limits to her as a child.
“We were not allowed to play in there because the majlis had to ready to serve guests as and when they came,” she said. “It always had that fresh smell of bukhoor. Whenever my great-grandmother’s friends came, they would eat and chat. After food was over, they would wash their hands and then perfume, or oud was sprayed over their hands so that they didn’t smell of food. So when I think of majlis, I remember the smell of bukhoor and oud. Even now, when I shop for scents, I prefer to buy bukhoor and oud as it reminds me of the majlis.”
The traditional majlis has often been a forum for Emiratis to exchange ideas, debate points of views and disseminate new information. It has been an essential part of the socio-political life in the country. Due to the significance of the majlis, UAE, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia applied to inscribe it on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and it was listed in 2015.
What can you find in a traditional majlis?
“That varies from home to home,”
“Every home has their own version of the majlis. Some have it separate from the house. For others it is a space within the home.”
Hamad agreed with her.
“Some people prefer the traditional setting with cushions on the floor,”
“Others prefer a more modern look. So there will be sofas or chairs all around the house. There will also be a TV where sometimes we play video games.”
Snacks and beverages, most likely qahwa, are served unlimitedly at the majlis.
“The best thing about the majlis is that it is like a family home,”
“Anyone and everyone is welcome there at any time. Whoever comes is fed and entertained. And they leave smelling good. It is what Emirati hospitality is all about.”
News Source: Khaleej Times