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Elsa Exarhu

For 1,000 years, the Arab tradition of gathering in a tent or building has been followed in the Majlis. It is a place where, as host, you receive visitors and give them respect and hospitality. It is almost a hallowed place where you learn and practise how to deal with the world. It is the place to exchange information, thoughts, to have a happy social life, to interact with joy, and to eventually find a solution to a potential problem.
Foreigners hearing about the Majlis cannot quite understand the notion before they actually experience it.
In Qatar, every house has a Majlis. The ones for men are built in a separate building (though often within the same campus), while the women have one inside the house. Sometimes, it is a traditional wool tent, but with windows and air conditioning: a very comfortable marriage of tradition and modernity. The place is usually full of newspapers and business magazines. It is mandatory that a big TV screen is on. Football matches, horse-races and important news are shared. It is at the peak of the evening that these meetings are the most effervescent.
Qataris do not often adopt modern furniture for their Majlis. The biggest charm is in the traditional setting, where there are no shoes, only carpets and cushions. The decoration on the walls is surely of beautiful Arabian horses and camels, desert landscapes, falcon hunting scenes and tent paintings.
It is also usual for falconers to bring their birds of prey, or, for the host to have his falcon sitting proudly beside him in the Majlis. Karak tea and Arabian coffee, shisha, fruits and sweets are all symbols of generosity of the host towards his guests.
From small to big budgets, the Majlis can be costly affairs and a lot of effort is made for the place to be able to receive any body, at any time.
Servants of the house are part of the Majlis identity too. They are like secretaries, but in a very private way. They know the energy of every friend or host's guest and never make a mistake in evaluating people. They know all secrets.
During the winter, from November to April, social life moves from the city into tents, right into the desert. Arabs and their friends experience the same in a different environment.

The author, a Doha resident, is an avid reader of Qatar Tribune & can be contacted at [email protected]
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