Mahala is a Balkan word for "neighbourhood" or "quarter", a section of a rural or urban settlement, dating to the times of the Ottoman Empire. It was brought to the area through Ottoman Turkish mahalle, but it originates in Arabic mähallä, from the root meaning "to settle", "to occupy". It is rendered as follows in the languages of the region: Bulgarian: махала, mahala; Bosnian and Serbian: махала/mahala or ма'ала/ma'ala; Romanian: mahala; Albanian: mëhallë; Greek: μαχαλάς, machalas; Macedonian: маало, maalo or маала, maala; Romani: mahala; Aromanian: mãhãlã. A mahala was a relatively independent quarter of a larger village or a town, with its own school, religious building or buildings, mayor's representative, etc. Mahalas are often named after the first settler or, when ethnically separate, according to the dominant ethnicity.
In Bulgaria, mahalas were administratively considered a separate type of settlement on a few occasions; today, settlements are only divided into towns or villages, and the official division of towns is into quarters. In rural mountainous areas, villages were often scattered and consisted of relatively separate mahalas with badly developed infrastructure.
In the Bengali language, mahalla (pronounced mo-hol-la) additionally means an urban neighbourhood. In Iran, mahalla is widely used in the same ways as mentioned above for urban neighborhoods. In South Africa, mahala is a slang term meaning "free of charge".