With Ramadan fast approaching, it is a great time to experience local culture and the strong religious heritage as well as feel the full thrust of traditional Arabian hospitality - one of the most important virtues in the Arab world. To avoid accidentally offending your host when you are invited into a Majlis or Ramadan tent Joanna Andrews gives some tips on etiquette.
Dubai is a modern city that welcomes many visitors from all over the world. But let’s not forget Dubai is a Muslim city full of culture and tradition, and Ramadan is a perfect time to experience the strong heritage of the city. This year the Muslim Holy month runs from Saturday June 28, and will continue for 30 days. It is a time when multiple Ramadan tents pop up around the city and locals invite visitors into their Majlises to mull over business or issues of the day. However there are certain rules you must adhere to over Ramadan:
- Refrain from eating and drinking in public in daylight hours
- Non-Muslims may eat and drink in designated areas
- Many hotels and shopping malls will have various outlets that remain open during Ramadan
- Eating, chewing gum, drinking and smoking in public during Ramadan is viewed as disrespectful.
- Avoid leaving immediately after the iftar, but be mindful of the call for Isha, the evening prayer, as your host may want to go for prayers
- Donate to charity. Ramadan is a month of giving!
The word ‘Majlis’ or ‘council’ is an Arabic term meaning a place of sitting. It is used to describe a formal legislative assembly and also a place for social gathering. A Majlis is a place where guests are received and entertained. It has long been a key feature in UAE culture and one of the cornerstones of Emirati civilisation. Most homes in the Gulf have a Majlis, where the head of the family hosts guests, catches up with friends and daily life over Arabic tea, coffee and dates or traditional Emirati sweets (Balaleet, Luqmat Al Qathi or luqaimat).
Another common feature in the Majlis is the incense burner with insense like Oud, Safran and Santalum. It is usually carried around the room so that guests can enjoy the aroma.
Majlis-The Do’s and Don’t
- Dress modestly. Wear loose fitting clothes that cover shoulders, arms and legs
- Males and females will probably be escorted to a different section
- Do not rush in. Walk in slowly with dignity
- The most generally-used greeting is the handshake. However, the firm grip favoured by the West is not used
- Express your wishes for your host’s wellbeing and his family
- Stand up when a new guest arrives
- When greeting the opposite sex who is Muslim don’t shake hands unless offered their hand first
- If you are sharing a meal with your host, eat first and then move on to business matters
- It is customary to accept food and drink with your right hand; it is considered unhygienic to eat with the left hand - Avoid showing the soles of your feet; don’t point your feet at anyone. It is deemed an insult
- It is also considered rude to cross your legs
- Don’t point with your finger; use your whole hand instead.
A waiter usually serves guests coffee, but he will not fill the cup completely. If the person being served shakes the empty cup from side to side between his thumb and index fingers this means he has had enough. However, if he does not make the signal the waiter automatically fills the cup.
Formal greeting : Salaam aleikum (peace be upon you)
Reply : Aleikum assalaam (and on you peace)