Seventy-seven percent of Qataris gather in a majlis at least once a week and 45 percent every day. But while 52 percent of Qatari men prefer to spend their time in the majlis rather than at home, 80 percent of the women prefer to spend time in their homes rather than in the majlis.
These are but some of the interesting findings made by a group of students from Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar (VCU-Q) as they took a peek into a number of majlises to examine a fascinating aspect of Qatari culture.
The students, as part of their research, titled ‘Al Majlis Al Qatari’, under Qatar Foundation’s Undergraduate Research Experience Programme (UREP), recreated a majlis and showed videos detailing the richness of the majlis as a significant element of Qatari culture and tradition at an exhibition yesterday at Waqif Art Center.
“We did research to trace the development of the majlis, how the modern majlis compares with the past, taking into consideration its function and structure,” said Buthayna Abdulla Al Thawadi, one of the researchers.
For one year, through photography, videos and interviews the team gathered documentation on the majlis from the Qatari perspective. They visited some majlises of prominent Qatari families, acquiring a vivid idea not only of the interior of the majlis but also the points of views of the owners.
The majlis in the past chiefly served as a venue for gathering people, for education, resolving conflicts, and prayer, while nowadays, entertainment has been added as one of its functions, Al Thawadi observed, adding she preferred those of the past.
A new breed of majlises has emerged, called Shabab majlis, which is for the young, the researchers found.
With 75 percent of majlis gatherings involving 10 or more people, the majlis has become a very important part of Qatari hospitality and a forum for exchange of ideas and opinions.
“Majlises are something in our culture, something we grow up with; every person has a majlis even if it’s not big. The Qatari people are known for their generosity and hospitality,” said Muhammad Mubarak Al Ali Al Maaded, one of those interviewed by the researchers.
With the mushrooming of posh places for gatherings like clubs and coffee shops, some fear that they might replace the majlis.
“Clubs and coffee shops would never replace the majlis and the majlis would never replace clubs and coffee shops. Each one has its own purpose,” said Al Maaded.
Other members of the VCU-Qgroup were Fatima Khalid Al Khater, Aysha Ahmed Al Saai and Reem Talal Al Thani. They were supervised by Matthew Holmes-Dallimore and Maja Kinnemark.
The team plans to produce DVDs for people to learn more about their research.