One of the most important aspects of Qatari social culture is a space called the majlis, bringing men together to socialise.

The majlis is an important feature of socialising within the Qatari community and every Qatari house has a majlis, which is a men–only space where the host can greet his guests, relatives and friends without disturbing the female part of the household.

Qataris are usually private and conservative people where gender segregation is a common aspect of their private and public lives. Ladies usually receive their friends and relatives inside their homes and have a special guests room set aside for this purpose.

The majlis is a purpose-built space outside of the house, near the main entrance. Traditionally, it is set up like a tent that is dark brown with thin white lines, replicating the traditional Bedouin tents of the nomadic people in Qatar. Wealthy individuals will have a large establishment near their homes, often with a kitchen and guest rooms. Families sometimes share a communal majlis and will often spend considerable time and money on its construction.

Usually open throughout the day, the host will usually ‘sit’ in the early evening and receive visitors with traditional coffee and dates, and sometimes for meals such as lunch and/or dinner. The majlis is a place to discuss current affairs, just chat or perhaps acknowledge your wish to know the host by asking a friend of his to take you. Senior colleagues or employees may occasionally visit as a sign of respect.

The majlis at Souq Al Wakra Hotel Qatar by Tivoli

Some public spaces such as hotels, restaurants and cafés have majlis-inspired spaces.

Coffee

Drinking coffee or qahwa as well as tea is a popular pasttime in Qatar and in the Arab region, in general. Down the centuries, the Arabs in this area have refined the process of coffee-making and drinking into an art form. Legend has it that coffee-drinking began in Arabia almost 12 centuries ago. In Qatar, coffee is a treasured sign of a sense of occasion – hospitality to one’s guests – and an essential accompaniment to births, weddings and to get through funerals.

Arab coffee is always served in the majlis. Each guest is duty bound to accept at least the first serving of qahwa or risk insulting the host. The actual preparation of the coffee is traditionally a precise practice which has changed little over the last century.

Green coffee beans are roasted on an iron pan (mihmas) and once cooled are ground; traditionally with a brass pestle and mortar but today an electric grinder is often used. Cardamom seeds, ginger and a pinch of saffron are added and the qahwa is boiled and then served in the dallah (coffee pot). Qahwa is never sweetened; instead the fresh dates that are offered as the standard accompaniment to the aromatic brew sweeten the palate before each sip.

Equally important as the preparation is the ritual serving of the qahwa. Guests are served in order of seniority. The coffee maker approaches the guests with a pile of porcelain cups without handles in his right hand and the dallah in his left. Etiquette demands that an odd number of cups be accepted but once the guest has had enough, he tilts the cup rapidly from side to side to indicate he is replete.


Author: Ola Diab

Featured image source: Qatar News Agency (QNA)

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