The hostile desert environment did not just lead to a total dependency between the individual and the clan and to chauvinistic beliefs of the tribe’s superiority, it also obliged to a fabulous hospitality towards other desert travellers.
A complete stranger could stay as long as 3 days without being asked of his whereabouts. He was considered and treated as a guest and enjoyed the clan’s full protection. In the vast silence and brooding solitude of the Sinai, simply encountering another person was (and in some regions still is) an unusual and noteworthy event. A new face is cause for great interest, generosity and careful etiquette, all values celebrated in Bedouin poetry, sayings and songs.
Hospitality is extensively ritualized. Whenever an animal is slaughtered for a guest, men ritually sacrifice it in accordance with Islamic law. Guests are ritually incorporated into their hosts' households because in case of armed conflict, guests must be protected as if they were family members.
When guests arrive, they are welcomed and a rug is immediately spread out and they will first be served sweet tea in small glasses.
When the guests are honoured, respected and nourished and it is time for the main ritual: The preparation of fresh cardamom-spiced Arabic coffee. The beans are roasted and then pounded in a mortar. A large wooden coffee-grinder is not only used but also played by the Bedouins.
(See also: EXPRESSIVE CULTURE )
A long beaked brass coffee pot is filled with water and the grounded coffee mixed with cardamom seeds is poured into it. The mixture is brought to boil 3 times and then it is left to settle fo a few minutes. It is ritually served in tiny, egg shaped china cups ('Feenghal') and the cups are usually half full:
'Al Heif': The first cup of coffee to be poured and tasted by the Bedouin host to let the guest feel safe.
'Al Keif': The second cup of coffee to be poured and tasted by the guest himself.
'Al Dheif' (The cup of the guest) is the third cup of coffee to be poured. It is drunk by the guest.
When the guest has had enough coffee (the guest should drink at least one), he holds the little coffee cup by placing the hand over the cup and then he wiggles the cup by turning his wrist a few times. This is the sign to the host that the guest has had enough. It is not in insult to say 'No, thank you', but you will be even more warmly embraced if you say 'Yes, please'. (Note: Do not drink the whole cup otherwise you will be left with a mouth full of coffee grounds.)
Besides the cultural there is also the religious importance for the Bedouins. The words of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) 'whoever believes in God and the day of resurrection, must respect his guests' means that being good to your guest is to honour God and in return God will be good to you. And although there are no religious sanctions, there are social sanctions and thus received hospitality always has to be returned.
The Bedouins of Sinai are peace-loving, cultivated, courteous, joyful, fugal and hospitable in spite of their poverty and nonetheless, Bedouin culture still survives in Sinai, where there is a growing appreciation of its value and its fragility.
Hospitality is in the blood of the Bedouins and wherever one meets Bedouin people in Sinai, the most amazing and lasting experience is exactly this: warmth and kindness.