ABU DHABI // Prayers for the beginning of Eid al Fitr were led by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, yesterday morning. The sighting of the new moon was declared on Monday evening, heralding the start of Eid festivities and marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Yesterday Muslims across the country gathered at mosques from 4.49am for the Eid prayer before joining family and friends for spiritual celebration over traditional feasts. Following prayers at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, in which the importance of zakat and tolerance were discussed, Sheikh Khalifa and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and the sizeable congregation prayed at the tomb of Sheikh Zayed, the late founder of the nation.
Later in the day, Sheikh Khalifa exchanged greetings with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, at Al Mushrif Palace. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid had earlier led the Eid prayer in Bur Dubai, and visited Sheikh Zayed's tomb. After four weeks of daily fasts, a holiday mood descended on Abu Dhabi. Khalid Farouk, from Egypt, who was out with his wife and daughter, said: "Eid is a very holy occasion for us. The first thing we do in the morning is go for prayers. The whole family will go, including the women, because these are special prayers.
"Then we will go home and have some kakh - traditional Eid sweets enjoyed in all Arab countries. "Next, we will go to our families and neighbours to congratulate them. This is a tradition that everyone will do. "Eid means joy and happiness for everyone. We prepare by getting new clothes, especially for the kids." Ashraf Mamdouh, 44, an engineer from Egypt who lives in Abu Dhabi, was walking on the Corniche with his wife.
"We thought about going to Al Ain to Jebel Hafeet, because the temperature there is much more pleasant," he said. "Our bodies are physically tired from fasting and praying during Ramadan, so Eid is a break." For many working people, the celebrations are a rare chance to travel, relax and spend time with loved ones. Three times the usual number of buses were travelling from Abu Dhabi to Dubai yesterday to cope with the heavy demand. Long queues snaked along the forecourt at Abu Dhabi bus station.
"For Eid it's too much, it's huge numbers of people," said Asif Mahmood, a supervisor. "For the next four or five days it will be the same rush. Dubai is most popular but a lot of people are also going to Al Ain." An Etihad Airways spokesman said they had noted a "very strong performance across all routes" since Eid was declared. "The European routes in particular have been very busy, particularly to Frankfurt, London and Manchester, as well as to other GCC countries.
"It is as much down to the time of year in which Eid has fallen," he said. "People have taken a few days more and made a week of it. People are using their time off wisely." Shops were also looking forward to frantic trading during one of the busiest shopping weeks of the year. Staff at Ingot, a cosmetics store in Al Wahda Mall, said they were temporarily out of stock of some products as women were buying in bulk, for themselves and gifts for family and friends.
Tarek al Fahmy, from Sudan, the chief news editor at the National Media Council, planned to buy sweets and toys for his three young children and to visit friends and relatives later in the day. "Yesterday, the children put on the new clothes they received for Eid and were so excited that they went to bed in them," he said. For some people living in the UAE, however, it was work as usual. Nijab Abdullah, a taxi driver from Sri Lanka, said he would work through the holiday, despite being Muslim.
"I'm on my own in Abu Dhabi, so I'm happy to work," he said. "I do wish I could be near my family though. There are no words to say how much I miss them. At times like Eid, it's very hard to be apart. It's a family time." Yousuf, an architect from Oud Metha, said: "Eid is a time for celebrating with your family, but in a big city it is often a more personal experience. "Eid is different in a bachelor context. Sometimes I wish I could be with my family to celebrate."
Mohammed Hussein, a Pakistani, was looking forward to meeting family and friends in Dubai. "It's only two days' holiday but it's a very special time," he said. "Eid is the most magical time of year. Most of my family are in Pakistan, but it will still be nice to see some relatives." Aden, a customer service assistant from Deira, said: "In Eid, everybody is kind to each other. There is no shouting. Everyone should think about how they acted during Ramadan and say sorry to people they may have upset or shouted at. It is a time for forgiveness."
Reporting team: Roland Hughes, Loveday Morris, Robert Ditcham, Hugh Naylor and Tim Brooks * To see images of Eid al Fitr celebrations in the UAE, go to www.thenational.ae/eidalfit