x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Ask Ali: On the role of the majlis

Ali Alsaloom tells us about majlises, and short breaks abroad.

Dear Ali: Are all majlises the same? What were they made of in the old days? What about women? Why don't we hear about majlises for them? MK, Kashmir

Dear MK: Majlises are an integral part of the history and culture of the UAE and other Gulf countries. The majlis plays a major role in teaching young generations about life, and is just as valuable as school because of its contribution in shaping personalities and strengthening personal connections.

There were different types of majlises throughout history. There was a majlis specifically for tradesmen, fishermen and sailors. There also were majlises in the houses of people with big families.

In al badiya - the desert and oasis areas - some majlises were out in the open and mainly under ghaf trees that were wide enough to welcome many people under their shade, and that very much symbolised hospitality. Such majlises were most often run by the leader of a tribe, and men would gather in them to discuss the latest news and happenings around their area.

Other majlises would be surrounded by walls made of bark and large mangrove tree leaves to protect the people inside from sand and wind. Such a majlis is known as a barza.

The architecture of a majlis depends on the location and the materials available to build a place for people to gather. Some were made of tents, and others from bricks and mud.

The same applies today, but majlis locations depend on the age of the group. Older people would still consider a home as the main site for a majlis, but the younger generations may gather in a coffee shop or, if they are cousins, probably at an aunt's or a grandmother's house.

Women traditionally have gathered in large numbers mainly on celebratory occasions such as weddings, Eid or the birth of a baby. Other gatherings would take place in the morning at someone's house and everyone would bring food that they had prepared.


Dear Ali: I am organising a trip abroad for my husband, who would like to go away alone for a few days. To make the most of his time, could you suggest some places that do not require more than a day or two to obtain a visa for Emiratis and are not geographically too far away? AA, Abu Dhabi

Dear AA: There are a lot of places within a short flight distance that would be great for a break.

For most of the Arab countries your husband would not need a visa and this would make the travel preparation easy. Jordan is one such place he might like to visit. From Amman he could do a day trip to the Dead Sea to relax a bit or go to the ancient site of Petra in the mountains and admire the colourful scenery.

Some Asian destinations are not so far away and also would be an option, such as Singapore or Thailand with its beautiful beaches and colourful shopping districts in Bangkok. Emiratis can obtain a visa on arrival.

Turkey might also be a good idea. Emiratis can get their sticker-type visa on arrival and Istanbul is always a great place to visit, offering countless opportunities for sightseeing and shopping, along with great food available on every street corner.

All countries of the European Union require a visa and even though the process for Emiratis is usually not difficult, it might take more than a day or two.



Language lesson

Arabic: Waleema

English: Feast

Waleema is a bountiful food that is served on special occasions. "Mashalah, waleema kbeera" is how one would admire the generous portions in Arabic.