ABU DHABI // Millions across the country celebrate Eid al Fitr today, and for many it will be their first as Muslims. The number of converts to Islam in Abu Dhabi increased by 25 per cent in the first half of 2010 over the same period last year, up from 486 to 559, according to the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department.
In Dubai the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department says the holy month was a popular time for conversions. More than 10,000 people there have become Muslim since 2005. More than 800 mosques and musallas [prayer areas] across the country have been preparing for more than a month for this morning's Eid prayers, due to take place at 6.30am. This Eid, 209 mosques and musallas will hold prayers in Abu Dhabi, 85 in Bani Yas, 51 in the Western Region, 57 in Al Ain, 123 in Sharjah and Khorfakkan, 65 in Ajman, 12 in Umm Al Qaiwain, 54 in Ras al Khaimah and 41 in Fujairah, the General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowments (Awqaf) said.
In Dubai, more than 150 mosques and eight musallas have been prepared for the occasion. The musallas alone have a capacity of nearly 100,000 people, according to Dubai Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department. In the capital yesterday, throngs of people flocked to the bus station to escape the city for the weekend. Private sector workers, many of whom normally have only one day off a week, wanted to take advantage of the long weekend. Even with double as many buses as usual laid on, the queues were still long as travellers rushed to visit family and friends in Al Ain and the Northern emirates.
"Maybe in one hour I will get a ticket," said Sunil Jala, 30, a mechanical engineer from India, on his way to Sharjah. "I used to live there and all my friends are there," he said. Outside others waited for hours in the heat to board a bus. "There are too many passengers today," said a driver, explaining the holiday rush was expected to continue today. "There are usually 24 buses for Dubai and now there are 50."
The Eid sermon delivered this morning is the same throughout the UAE, and it usually focuses on the importance of maintaining good relationships with family, friends and neighbours. The direction and guidance section at Awqaf is responsible for selecting khatibs, or preachers, for the eid prayer. Dr Omar al Khatib, the assistant director for Islamic affairs and charitable activities in Dubai, said preparation for Eid prayers starts at the beginning of Ramadan, when several specialised teams are formed to ensure Eid prayers go smoothly across the emirates. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, is due to lead the prayers at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque this morning. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister, is due to do so at the Grand Eid Mussala in Dubai. Emergency teams have been set up to deal with any urgent needs that occur on the day, such as broken air-conditioning units or sound systems, or power cuts. "These people are equipped with all the necessary means to address an emergency situation that could occur on the day to ensure that everyone has a pleasant and spiritual prayer," said Dr al Khatib. Police and civil defence patrols have also been boosted in preparation for the holiday. Ajman police will deploy 48 police patrol vehicles to help with traffic at mosques and musallas in the emirate. "We appeal to the public to be co-operative and follow all the traffic rules," said Brigadier-General Ali Alwan, the director general of Ajman police. In Abu Dhabi, Col Hussein al Harthi, the director of traffic and patrols, urged parents to keep an eye on their children and not to allow youngsters to play in the road unsupervised. He urged drivers to be extra vigilant, as the number of pedestrians increases as residents picnic in public parks. Sharjah's Eid preparations have included increasing the number of buses running over the holiday to 500. "Commuters will only have to wait about 15 minutes in order to catch a bus, instead of waiting up to 40 minutes," said Majid al Shamsi, the assistant director general of Sharjah Transport. email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org * With additional reporting by Anna Seaman and Yasin Kakande