Look: Narrow alleyways of Deira turn into massive dining areas for Iftar during Ramadan

Volunteers start preparing for the meal well in advance and source fresh meat, rice, and lentils after the Taraweeh prayers for the next day's feast


SM Ayaz Zakir

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Photos: Shihab
Photos: Shihab

Published: Wed 29 Mar 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Thu 30 Mar 2023, 10:16 AM

As the clock strikes four in the afternoon, narrow lanes around Ahmed Abdullah Lootah mosque in Naif, Deira, transform into a massive dining area, ready to serve Iftar to the faithful during Ramadan. Thousands of residents who work and live in Deira, the business hub of Dubai, gather together to partake in the community meal after fasting from dawn to dusk.

Iman Cultural Centre organises the grand feast under the presidency of PSM Habeebullah Khan, and the food is donated by Dubai's renowned businessman Ali Rashid Lootah. The foundation has been organising this Iftar feast for the past 47 years.

At around 3pm daily, over fifty volunteers from the cultural centre and other organisations prepare for the feast. They begin by laying down tarpaulin sheets in the multiple alleys spanning over a kilometre. Plastic sheets are then spread parallelly over the tarp, making over 800 rows. All this is done in just an hour.

Thousands of residents and employees around Deira make their way towards the mosque around 6pm daily to break their fast. "We have people from various countries taking part in the feast. They love our traditional Kanjhi (rice porridge), which we prepare in Tamil Nadu. Many request an extra helping of the delicacy. Tourists walking by also taste it and ask for the recipe," said Hameed Yasin, General Secretary of the Iman Cultural Centre.

Irrespective of their culture and nationality, faithful sit beside each other, calling out to the Almighty by raising their hands just before breaking their fast. They pray for their families and the leaders of the UAE.

As the Dubai Police Iftar canon is fired, or when the Adhan is called out, the faithful break their fast with a date and water. They also savour the delicious Kanjhi and fruits offered by the good Samaritans.

After breaking their fast, devotees rush to mosques to offer their maghrib prayers in the congregation.

In a Hadith reported by Zayd ibn Khalid, Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) said: "Whoever helps break the fast of a fasting person, he will have the same reward as him without decreasing anything from the reward of the fasting person.

Behind the scene of feeding thousands of devotees

The volunteers start preparing for the feast well in advance. "We source the raw materials like fresh meat, rice, and lentils at night after the Taraweeh prayers. These items are then taken to our kitchen in Sonapur. Around 3am, our chefs start the preparations in batches. It takes about 8 hours to prepare two thousand kilograms of Kanjhi," said Yasin.

"At noon, the volunteer pack the cooked meal in a plastic container which is then dispatched to Deira in a truck," added Yasin.

Sameer Ahamed Sirajudeen, secretary of the cultural centre, would wait and be ready to receive the meals and manages the entire operation with the help of volunteers. "At times, residents and people working around come to help us serve the food. We even had tourists who helped us organise the feast," said Sirajuddin.

Police officers from the Naif Police Station have also been volunteering to spread the Iftar and cleaning.

The real challenge

But the routine is not over. The real challenge for volunteers is to clean up the entire alley in just 20 minutes. "When people leave the mosque after the maghrib prayer, they find the entire area clean. We have placed dustbins every 30 metres to clear up these lanes quickly," said Sirajuddin.

This entire process is repeated the next day, from sourcing raw materials, fruits, and drinks, cooking, and spreading the meals to cleaning up the lanes. And this will continue until the new moon of Eid Al Fitr is sighted.

Grateful beneficiaries

One among many beneficiaries is Mohammed Salem, who has been attending this Iftar gathering for the last 20 years. He works at a perfume shop in the vicinity. "From the first Ramadan in the UAE, I don't have to worry about my Iftar. Thousands of people have been thankful for this gesture for several years now. And the food they provide is delicious and nutritious," said Salem.

"We earn around Dh50 a day, and they help us save Dh10, which we would otherwise spend on our Iftar," said Junaid, a cart puller operating in the vicinity.

"The organisers are surely blessed by the prayers of these five thousand people who quench their thirst and hunger here," added Junaid.


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