Experiencing Iftar in Old Dubai with #Unseen Trails

I am in Old Dubai, trying to find a spot on the ground among 2,500 workers and blue plastic sheets lining the narrow alleyways of Deira. It was an hour before the iftar meal at sunset and the streets between the numerous mosques in Naif neighbourhood are uncharacteristically quiet in anticipation of the athan (call […]

I am in Old Dubai, trying to find a spot on the ground among 2,500 workers and blue plastic sheets lining the narrow alleyways of Deira.

It was an hour before the iftar meal at sunset and the streets between the numerous mosques in Naif neighbourhood are uncharacteristically quiet in anticipation of the athan (call for prayer).

More than 75 volunteers from the Indian Muslim Association in Dubai are distributing cartons of dates, water, oranges and packets of samosas (fried fritters).

The large communal iftar is part of the #unseen Trails Iftar in Naif, organised by Arva Ahmed, co-founder of Frying Pan Adventures and her co-host Mohamed Somji, a photographer at Gulf Photo Plus. It is also part of the five-hour Ramadan Cultural Walk tour organised by Frying Pan Adventures.

“The best way to discover the city is through the lens of food,” says Ahmed, as a group of long-time residents and newcomers to the city gather at the exit of the Al Ras Metro Station that afternoon.

“The beauty of this neighbourhood is that people here are much more traditional in their approach and their way of fasting and practicing Ramadan is really back to basics,” says Ahmed.

“The moments before Iftar, which are some of the hardest moments that someone who is fasting has to go through, are the most magical. You get the see the mosques in a very different light.”

As we navigated through the textile souqs, occasionally turning our professional cameras and mobile phones to capture a telling scene with the expert advice of Somji, we pass by some of UAE’s oldest mosques where hundreds of men, tightly gripping yellow bowls and plastic bags, had lined up to get their share of biryani, prepared fresh everyday to be served at mosques all over the country.

“Deira has a lot of texture and character,” says Somji. “You’ll discover something new every time you come here.”

The iftar that takes place all around Deira’s Ali Rashid Lootah mosque is almost fully funded by Ali Rashid Lootah, the chairman of Nakheel and Emirati donor Humaid bin Drai of Bin Drai Enterprises, along with individual donations by members of the Indian Muslim Association, which is officially registered as Iman Cultural Centre in Dubai.

The scale of the operation becomes apparent when we head up to the roof of a five-storey building nearby to get a bird’s-eye view.

Sitting beside each other, the jovial men seem to have forgotten their daily struggles.

When the Imam cleared his throat and makes the athan, they picked up the dates lying next to them to break their fast — a practice which follows the teaching of the Prophet Muhammed.

Liyakath Ali, the general secretary of the Iman Cultural Centre, says 30 cooks were up at the crack of dawn to prepare the kanji, a mutton porridge from Tamil Nadu. The stew is a complete energy-giving meal of lentils, rice, meat and vegetables.

“We started doing this 30 years ago, but were only catering to about 100 people back then,” recalls Ali. “Now we serve more than 100,000 meals every Ramadan.”

He says workers, whose low wages aren’t enough to buy them a wholesome meal during Ramadan, come from as far as Sharjah for this “cooling broth.”

“It has spices, fennel and other herbs that make it a very filling meal.”

The organisation supplies 1,500 meals to two other mosques in Dubai, and many times run out of food packs. “But we always have something to offer,” Ali says. “So we give out dates, water, milk and samosas.”

Once the men begin to disperse for prayer, the crew quickly starts cleaning up before the nightly shopping chaos resumes.

We continue to wander around the neighbourhood; shopkeepers are sitting on the steps of their stores sipping hot tea out of styrofoam cups. Others have formed groups around hole -in-the-wall cafeterias for snacks.

Ahmed discusses the eclectic culinary options on offer pays tribute to Islam’s diversity and spirit of coexistence. You can dig into the different cuisines from jalebis (deep fried sweet pretzels popular in South and West Asia and North Africa) available to purchase by the kilo from a Bhori (Muslim community) sweet shop or have Afghani chopan kababs named after shepherds (chopan) who rubbed chunks of lamb with salt before roasting them while watching their flocks.

Our food tour of Ramadan specialities ended at an easily missable Pakistani dessert shop sandwiched between flashy electronic stores in Deira. The group shared a portion seviyan, a creamy roasted vermicelli and nuts milk porridge prepared on special occasions in South Asian households.

This unseen trail has now made me weary of every iftar invite I will ever receive. With the iftar landscape dominated by large buffets and flashily hotel surroundings, the street iftar is a welcome reminder of the spirit of charity , generosity and solidarity so central to the holy month.

The five-hour Ramadan Cultural Walk begins at 5.30pm and costs Dh595. For a full calendar of walk days and private tours, visit www.fryingpanadventures.com

aahmed@thenational.ae

The iftar that takes place all around Deira’s Ali Rashid Lootah mosque is almost fully funded by Ali Rashid Lootah, the chairman of Nakheel and Emirati donor Humaid bin Drai of Bin Drai Enterprises, along with individual donations by members of the Indian Muslim Association, which is officially registered as Iman Cultural Centre in Dubai.

The large communal iftar is part of the #Unseen Trails Iftar in Naif, organised by Frying Pan Adventures and Gulf Photo Plus.

Source: art & life

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