ABU DHABI // Muslims across the UAE marked the start of Eid al Fitr with prayers and celebrations yesterday. In the capital, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, worshipped in the morning at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in the capital, where prayers were led by Ali al Hashimi. Sheikh Khalifa was joined by many members of the Royal family.
In other emirates, ruling families also worshipped; Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, also visited the tomb of the late Sheikh Zayed, founder of the UAE. In every emirate, families went to parks, enjoying picnics and fairground rides into the night. Many others headed to the shopping malls, albeit with a tighter grip on their dirhams this year. For many families, buying new clothes is a part of celebrating Eid, but the first day of the holiday this year did not deliver the kind of shopping rush to which many of the malls are accustomed. At Al Wahda Mall in the capital, some staff estimated that sales were down by as much as half from last year.
"Since yesterday, we sold maybe 12 pieces. Last Eid, it was double that by the first day," said Yasmin Utanes, who works at the clothing store Next. She blamed the global financial downturn for the decline in sales, saying it was the slowest Eid she has seen in three years at the shop. "It's empty in here because people are spending less," she said. "We still have some locals coming to buy dresses for their children, but very few. It's not like before."
Raouf Nermine, 42, said he had spent Dh1,000 (US$270) on family gifts for Eid in 2008 but is likely to spend less this time around. "Last year, we could be spending without thinking," said the Egyptian father, with his two boys in tow. "Not this time. Mostly, we will buy for the kids." Hany Maher, an architect also from Egypt, was searching for wedding gifts for his brother. "Somehow, I'm not spending too much, because I feel there are no good offers," said Mr Maher, 33.
He planned to head to the park with his children later. Sitting in the shade of a date palm at Mushrif Garden, Noushad Mohammed, 40, and his wife laid out paper place mats for a picnic with friends. Other families nearby lounged on lawn chairs, snacked on sandwiches or puffed on shishas. "We eat some chicken, some vegetable curry, rice, fried fish," Mr Mohammed said, gesturing at the spread. "Every year we are coming to the Corniche for Eid, but today there is no beach, so we come here."
Unlike in previous years, the public beaches at Ras al Akhdar and the Corniche are closed for development. The extended Corniche beach is expected to reopen next month with new facilities. Mr Mohammed, who is from India, said his wife and friends would probably finish their day by shopping at Marina Mall. It was a much more hectic scene at the Abu Dhabi Bus Terminal on Muroor Road, where hundreds of people crammed buses and queued up for shuttles heading out of town.
The holidays were a perfect occasion for a change in scenery for Abilash K, 25, who is from India. "Our families are not here; they're in India, so we're going to Dubai to meet some friends, have good food, some drinks and hang out somewhere different," the salesman said. Amid blaring car horns and the noise of minibus drivers touting for fares, Rijwan Ansari, 22, gathered seven friends to share a minibus to Dubai.
"Must go to Dubai and have fun; must go to new place today with friends," said Mr Ansari, an office administrator from Nepal. More than fun, Mohammed Sahabuddil, a Bangladeshi teacher of the Quran, reminded all that Eid is a "time for togetherness". "All people - all Muslims, Christians and other - I hope for everyone to be happy and no war," he said outside the Mohammed bin Zayed Mosque on Al Karamah Street. His exhortation echoed the message of peace, love and mutual respect delivered in Mr al Hashimi's sermon at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque.