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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

My Ramadan: Why the holy month of 1954 was special for this expat teacher

Mohammed Diab Al Mousa was one of three teachers working in the first school in the UAE 

Mohammed Diab Al Mousa is the educational advisor of Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah. Reem Mohammed / The National
Mohammed Diab Al Mousa is the educational advisor of Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah. Reem Mohammed / The National

Born in 1933, Mohammed Diab Al Mousa has witnessed many Ramadans but the one in 1954 had "a special taste," he says.

He arrived in the UAE — known as the “Reconciled Emirates" — in 1954 to be one of three teachers working in the first school in the country, Al Qasimiya. It was located in a big house behind the current Arts Museum.

“Everything about the country and its people was pure. They welcomed us, supported us and opened their homes for us,” he said.

And despite the harsh nature of the land, people made the best of it, he said. They were all equal and the relationship between the ruler and his people was an intimate one based on mutual respect.

Among Mr Al Mousa’s pupils was Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah. “He was in the sixth grade. He was very smart and active, and then became the head of scouts,” said Mr Al Mousa.

“I recall how our Christian neighbours in our small village, between Jaffa and Lydd, used to fast with the rest of us out of respect.”

The former teacher is from Palestine and worked there before he decided to move to Kuwait in 1950.

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When he was a small child, he and his friends would copy the bigger children and pretend to be fasting, but would sip some water "at every chance they got."

“We were one big family in our village, and despite the slight difference in culture and habits, we were also like a big family when I moved here to the UAE. People were eager to learn and enthusiastic to progress, and so they did.

"I can say with confidence that despite being one of the last Arab countries to win independence, its now the number one country in the Arab world with economic success and high level of security,” said Mr Al Mousa, who still works at the Ruler’s court as an educational consultant.

The 85-year-old recalls when he, his pupils and colleagues moved to a new building in 1955, leaving the old one to be used for female pupils. “I felt like every girl in the country rushed to be registered in school when it opened its door for girls, and the parents were so proud and eager to have their children get a proper education,” he said.

The year before, his first year, the teachers would often be invited to have their Iftars with the families of some of their pupils, and at other times they invited their students and their families to join them at their humble homes.

“We were still single and lived in small rooms, but we managed. We had some people get us ingredients and we prepared our traditional food for them and they loved it,” he said.

That Ramadan, Mr Al Mousa says, was special and he still remembers how beautifully different it was with teachers, students, parents, and even royalty praying together.

In 1956, Mr Al Mousa left the UAE, but he returned in 1975.

“When I returned to the country, I found many of my pupils in leading positions. I couldn't have been more proud,” he said.

One sentiment he holds dear about the country is that it has "never discriminated between people according to religion, or any other reason".

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