The Majlis – Public Salam

In Arabic, majlis means a place for sitting.

In the Gulf, all important or connected people have a majlis, a ring of chairs that is opened for anyone to enter and sit with the King, the business man or the esteemed, religious leader.  Upon entering, you are expected to walk around the entire gathering and great everyone individually before taking your place at the end of the line.  One by one, each visitor gets an opportunity to chat with the host.  It is a kind of town meeting where congratulations are given, grievances are expressed or issues discussed.

Of course, fitted for a King, a royal majlis is grand.

But anyone can create a majlis.

majlis one bench by side of the road by eva the dragon

It starts with a bench set along the street or in any open spot.  Someone sits down and calls out, Salam a lay kum – “PEACE be upon you” – to the passerby.

Like Jesus in John 20:19, the receiver responds with “PEACE be with you” – Ah lay kum a Salam.

Greeting someone with PEACE clears the air of any shared negativity.  Without any animosity or grievances, a second chair appears because now there is space for a conversation.

Shlow-nik is the local greeting after Salam.  Like a mood ring, the majlis holder literally asks, “What is your color today?”

I interpret the greeting as a way to express feelings without actually calling them forth.  An unpaid psychiatrist, the listener does not have to engage in the situation.  He lends an ear and responds with haram, masha al’lah or mabruk confirming his understanding of the situation, but leaving all solutions and graces up to God.

Tea, sweets or whatever is on hand are offered because the next part will take awhile.

The conversation expands outward to others in your sphere of influence.  How your children, your mother, your father, your great-aunt, and how all the extended relatives are fairing must be addressed.  To a 21st century Westerner accustomed to getting down to business, it feels like a lot of time is wasted talking about irrelevant people.  But to the Arab, our lives are intertwined with our family, our tribe.  Meeting one is coming into contact with the entire tribe.

It is only after we understand the other’s state of mind and their current family situation and after any physical discomfort caused from hunger or thirst has been eased that we are ready to discuss Matters.

majlis with satellite dishes dragons rabbits and roosters

In the village near our house,  over several weeks, I watched a man create a majlis.  It started with two plastic chairs set up in the vacant lot across the street from his house.  An old sofa was added, then a second.  An extension cord was pulled across the street to run a popcorn maker.  A third sofa appeared and because it was summer, a large fan.  It only took a few weeks before a satellite dish was added and outdoor lights.  Despite the nearby altercations between the villagers and the police, nothing was ever covered or stolen.  It was a majlis.

Last summer in the USA, I noticed people living in beach towns created outdoor majlis.  In my grandparent’s small, Mid-Western town, the unfenced, front yard and porch was the equivalent.

A majlis can only exist where there are no walls, and someone invites you to sit in Peace.

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