Thousands of worshippers of all ages set off from their homes at dawn on Tuesday to perform Eid Al Adha prayers at mosques across the country.
Traffic police guided drivers on the busy roads leading to Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai as worshippers rushed to find a parking space in the near-crowded lot. Others, living in the neighbourhood, walked in groups and joined the steady stream of people walking through the doors or lining up on the pavements and park area outside the mosque.
The sound of takbeer [calling “Allahuakbar”] rang through the speakers and worshippers carrying prayer mats hurried to their places, saying hasty hellos and lining up shoulder-to-shoulder. Then the mosque went still.
Prompted by the imam, worshippers methodically unfolded their hands from their chests and quickly raised them to their heads before kneeling and posturing up again.
When the prayers are over, family and friends gather together to greet each other properly.
“It is important to start celebrations with Eid prayers,” says Riyadh Najm, a Syrian father of three. “I encourage my children to form the habit of praying.”
He was joined by his wife, Marwa Al Humaidi, and their children, Ahmed, Sama and Aws. Each wore new clothes for the occasion and attended the religious lecture held after prayers.
“The weather is cooler than yesterday,” says Mr Najim, relieved.
Ms Al Humaidi, who has lived in the UAE for 13 years, says she first felt the spirit of Eid after hearing the familiar call to prayer and seeing flocks of worshippers oblige.
“It is a beautiful atmosphere. We have so many relatives living here and Eid is a time for family gatherings.”
Their children, she says, are particularly excited to receive Eid money — or Eiddiyah — from the elders of the family, as is customary during the holiday.
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“My daughter, Sama, said this morning that she is very excited about her new clothes and Eid money,” Ms Al Humaidi says.
Elsewhere in the mosque, the religious lectures begin while others take group pictures and exchange greetings as children dressed in national dress or colourful clothes run around excitedly.
Othman Saleem, a Jordanian living in Dubai, says that, during the morning prayers and while he fasted in the days leading up to Eid, he prayed to Allah to reward Muslims.
“I feel special to start my celebrations with praying,” says Mr Saleem, 43, who works in the property sector.
The practice is not mandatory but Muslims are advised to fast ahead of Eid, particularly on Arafat Day which is viewed as one of the holiest days in the Islamic calendar.
Mr Saleem has invited his family to gather at his home for lunch.
“My family and I bought huge quantities of meat. Some of it meat will be cooked and the rest will be distributed to the needy,” he says.
And while he maintains that tradition, he says he stopped buying new clothes for himself to wear during Eid.
“But I help my sisters to pick their children’s outfits.”
The early wake up can be difficult for some and a few men were a little late trickling into the mosque in time for lectures, sheepishly searching for a place to sit and blend in.
Syed Noor, a Pakistani, 23, was once such late riser whose friends had to wake him to make it in time.
“I work in a nearby restaurant and finished my work shift late in the night. I am thankful I am here right now and will celebrate with some friends,” he says.