Hundreds of thousands of people celebrate the first evening of Ramadan with friends, family and colleagues across the Emirates.
Worshippers share in 'the spirit of iftar'
As the maghrib call to prayer rang out across the country at about 6.40pm yesterday, hundreds of thousands of people celebrated the breaking of the fast on the first day of Ramadan. They came together in homes, mosques, hotels and tents to share iftar meals and celebrate the first evening of the holy month with family, friends and colleagues. The roads fell quiet as people rushed to celebrate iftar at dusk. Traffic police in Abu Dhabi distributed green snack boxes containing dates and bottles of water to drivers at traffic lights - just one of many gestures of charity that occurred throughout the city. Among those marking the occasion were 25 official guests of the UAE who broke their fast at the Grand Sheikh Zayed Mosque in the capital along with dignitaries and government officials. They included some of the 30 ulama, or Islamic scholars, including five women, from 11 countries who were invited to take part in the UAE's annual tradition of offering such hospitality. One of those invited, Dr Mohammed Galal, a member of the Supreme Islamic Studies Council, said: "I very much enjoy praying and breaking my fast at the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Mosque. It is a truly unique mosque built as a gift to Muslims by a truly unique man." Mohammed Baha el Nagar, 13, whose father works for one the dignitaries, was given the chance to sit with the ulamas. "I like coming here to break my fast and to sit with Islamic leaders from all over the Muslim world," he said. "I have been fasting for as long as I can remember." Hundreds of men and dozens of women also joined the dignitaries at the mosque last night. Many were labourers, but the crowd, a mixture of Egyptian, Indian, Pakistani and Afghans, also included families with small children. As the first melodic strains of the call to prayer rang out, the men rushed to secure seats on the floor where the iftar meals were laid out. There was some commotion as security guards tried to push them back. But calm descended once they were seated and broke their fast with dishes such as lamb and rice and chicken curry, as well as hummus, dates and bread. Also among those breaking the fast at the mosque was Asma Rizvi, with her husband, and son and daughter - ages six and three. "I'm so glad we came here," she said. "This mosque is beautiful, and the spirit of iftar here is beautiful." Between 300 and 400 people from all walks of life attended an iftar outside Naboudah Mosque on Al Wasel Road in Dubai. Office workers, taxi drivers, labourers, residents and the needy all tucked into dates and juice as soon as the call to prayer rang out. Volunteers were busy serving the dish of the day - chicken biryani. For the last 12 years the iftar at the mosque has been provided by Sheikh Juma Khalifa al Naboudah. It will run every night of Ramadan, and more and more people are expected to attend throughout the month. Nazim Aga, an office clerk from Goa, India, who has volunteered at the event for the last decade, said: "Ramadan is a month of goodness and this is why I am here every night to get my reward from Allah - because he is who provides me with food. I pray more and I give more money than usual as zakat." Abdulah al Naseer, a labourer in Al Qouz from Kerala, India, was marking his third Ramadan in the country. Every night for the last two holy months he and his friend, Muhsain Saad, have broken their fast at the Naboudah Mosque. "Ramadan is a special time because it brings the best out of people and draws us more together, said Mr Naseer. "The buzz is different to any other time of the year. I tend to do more good deeds in this time than any other time." Mr Saad added that he prayed more during Ramadan. "I enjoy reciting the Quran and listening to the imam say the prayers." Awwar Saleem, 31, a hairdresser at a nearby salon from Peshawar, Pakistan, said it was the "warmth" of Ramadan he enjoyed most. "And I tend to read more Quran - and finish reading it on the last day," he said. "There is more reward in that too." Jasim Mohammed Naseem, a security guard from India who works at Jumeirah Beach Residences, was having his first Ramadan in Dubai. "I am very happy to see such things happen because me and my friends get to meet other Muslims, some from our country, and we get together on study circles learning more about Islam, especially this month," he said. "However, tonight we are on duty so we can't stay for the prayers." Mohammed Iqbal, a disabled Indian who converted to Islam from Hinduism, said: "This is such a special moment, this month will give me the chance to pray more and ask God to guide me through this life because he is all that I need." Breaking the fast at a mosque is a tradition that dates back to the time of the Prophet Mohammed, when he and his followers would eat dates and sip water before praying. Sponsoring large iftar meals at mosques has since become a tradition, sometimes to honour guests and dignitaries, other times to offer free meals to the poor. Iftar tents, too, are a long-cherished tradition, with charities such as the Red Crescent Authority, as well as five-star hotels pitching them up during the season. The Red Crescent has set up tents at 75 locations throughout the country, offering thousands of free iftar meals. In Abu Dhabi, 13 locations will provide 117,000 iftar meals, while in Al Ain, eight locations will offer 72,000 meals. In Dubai, three locations will serve 30,000 meals. Crowds of labourers last night waited to break their fast outside Red Crescent tents. At one tent in Muroor Road in Abu Dhabi they were disappointed, however, because the food arrived late. Several hundred people had been waiting, but most left before the food lorries arrived more than an hour behind schedule. "For the past two years I have come to this tent and received during iftar biryani, fruits, water and juice," said Baha Uddin, a construction worker from Bangladesh. "I am not sure what happened this year so I am going back to my room to prepare food." Abdulrahman al Tenaji, Red Crescent's media manager, said the lorries were delayed due to traffic congestion, but hoped iftar would run smoothly at the tents today. The tents are usually open to anyone. Many appreciate them for their sense of community, as strangers break their fasts together. In Dubai, 2,500 construction workers broke their fasts in a tent as part of the seventh Ramadan Forum organised by the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. In 50 countries overseas, the charity's iftar programmes will also offer meals to 50,000 Muslims. firstname.lastname@example.org