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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Eid prayers at Abu Dhabi mosque offer home comforts for Palestinian families 

Masjid Bani Hashim was built as a replica of Palestine’s Dome of the Rock

Chants of “God is great” echo from the mosque’s minarets as men, women and children walk calmly into the courtyard of Masjid Bani Hashim for Eid prayers.

Girls wearing new dresses and men traditionally dressed may be a typical sight at all mosques on the morning of Eid Al Adha but this mosque in Al Maqtaa offers a unique nostalgia for worshippers.

Bani Hashim mosque is a replica of Palestine’s Dome of the Rock – a factor that many families say has been attracting them to pray there for years.

Asmaa Al Bayouk walks briskly into the mosque with her daughter, Bissan, 6, and son, Yaseen, 4, in tow.

“The Dome of the Rock décor reminds us of Palestine,” says the Palestinian housewife, 27.

Asma Al Bayouk take her children, Hmymn and Yassin, to the Women's prayer room with her for Eid prayers. Victor Besa/The National
Asma Al Bayouk take her children, Hmymn and Yassin, to the Women's prayer room with her for Eid prayers. Victor Besa/The National

While Ms Al Bayouk and her siblings were all born in Abu Dhabi, and have spent every Eid in the capital, she says the mosque reminds her of her extended family in Palestine.

“I have been going to Eid prayers since I was a child and I have been bringing my children to pray since they were born. Starting the day with the prayers is what makes us feel the Eid atmosphere,” she says.

Older women coming to pray at the mosque distribute sweets, money and goody boxes to the children whose eyes begin darting around searching for the source of their next small gift.

Traditionally, adults hand out cash and sweets to children during Eid, particularly during the morning prayers - seemingly as further incentive to wake up early.

Bissan fumbles with the Eid goody box she was given. Her perseverance pays off and soon she is counting the Dh10 bills the box contained.

Her brother tries to copy her but gives up, crawling to his mother’s side and pulling at her sleeves for help.

“After the prayers we will go to my parents’ house. All my siblings and their children and husbands will gather there. There will be 30 people at the house,” Ms Al Bayouk says.

“We will eat a traditional Eid breakfast of hommous, foul, different kinds of cheese and yoghurt.”

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For lunch, she says, they will be having a traditional Palestinian Eid meal: maftoul with meat. Typically, families use store-bought maftoul as the Palestinian couscous equivalent is very time consuming to make. Bulgar wheat, white and wheat flour are soaked in hot water before they are rubbed and twisted together by hand, making tiny balls that are later steamed before serving.

“My mother makes the maftoul by hand,” Ms Al Bayouk says proudly.

Her younger brothers are charged with collecting and distributing sacrificed goat meat to their neighbours before driving around to distribute it to workers, cleaners and petrol station attendants.

Early morning prayers at the Masjid Bani Hashim mosque. Victor Besa / The National 
Early morning prayers at the Masjid Bani Hashim mosque. Victor Besa / The National 

“As you know the sacrifice should be distributed in thirds; one third for us, one third for relatives or neighbours, and a third for the poor,” says Ms Al Bayouk.

One of the highlights of Eid while growing up, she says, was when residents were allowed to bring a sheep home for slaughter. She says her family would tie the animal to a tree under their building for two days before it was sacrificed.

“We were nine sisters, so we took turns guarding it. Two would take the morning shift, then go up and rest, then the other two will come down… because this was our sheep we didn’t want anyone to mess with it.

“For two days we would pamper it and feed it,” she says.

Home slaughter of livestock was banned by the municipality, for hygiene reasons, around seven years ago.

“We also used to gather all nine sisters and my mother to bake ma’moul and kaak [traditional Eid sweets made with semolina and stuffed with either nuts or date paste],” she says.

Early morning prayers at the Masjid Bani Hashim mosque. Father and son, Khaleel Mansoori and Arzan, after morning Eid prayers. Victor Besa/The National
Early morning prayers at the Masjid Bani Hashim mosque. Father and son, Khaleel Mansoori and Arzan, after morning Eid prayers. Victor Besa/The National

After prayers, Khalil Al Mansouri, his 14-year-old son, and three brothers cheerfully take selfies with the mosque’s golden dome in the background.

“We have been mostly praying here since the mosque opened [in 2010],” said the Indian expatriate, 44.

Mr Mansouri is the co-owner of the National Food Production Company and has been living in the capital since 1994. He has mostly celebrated Eid in Abu Dhabi ever since.

“This mosque reminds us of Dome of the Rock next to Al Aqsa, which is holy for us and was the Muslim’s first Qibla [direction for prayer] so we love to pray here because it looks beautiful and has a nice design,” he says.

“We also come across our neighbours and friends because we live nearby.”

His brother Abuzar, 32, says he often takes photos of the mosque and sends them to his wife in India.

“When I post photos of myself here, my friends think I went to Palestine,” he says.

Having moved to the UAE 10 years ago, he feels nostalgic celebrating without with friends and the rest of his family. But he says he and his brothers make sure to gather together all the same.

“Now we will go to my brother’s house, his wife will make us the traditional Indian sweet sheer khurma [a vermicelli pudding made with milk and dates].”

“After that we will go to the market and get the goat,” says their brother Abu Zubair, 28.

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