Simple iftars, navigating sand dunes to go to mosque: Emiratis recall the Ramadan of yesteryears

Some citizens get emotional as they recollect fond memories of childhood years


Mazhar Farooqui

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KT file photo
KT file photo

Published: Mon 27 Mar 2023, 4:16 PM

Last updated: Mon 27 Mar 2023, 7:49 PM

Ramadan in Dubai has come a long way from what it used to be back in the day. Emiratis who experienced the holy month in the past recall a time when iftar and suhoor were simple meals, and the norm was far from the grandiose iftar parties, suhoor tents, and sheesha nights of today.

Jassim Abdul Rahman, 51, who works for Dubai government and lived near Al Ghurair Centre in Deira gets emotional as he goes down memory lane about Ramadan during his childhood years in the 70s. "Our iftar and suhoors were also unlike anything you see these days. Iftars consisted of yoghurt, dates and harees. The main course was mostly grilled fish and white rice. We had no maid and my mother used to do all the cooking. Sometimes she would make pakodas," said Rahman, remembering how his seven brothers and sisters would gather around to break the fast.

"I would give anything to get those days back," he said.

“Once a Bedouin appeared at our doorstep just before iftar time, and my father generously offered him half of the food our mother had prepared for the family. He instilled in us the importance of giving from an early age."

Reflecting on the modest iftar parties that his parents would host, Rahman said, "They were never over-the-top. At best we would have luqaimat.”

He also recalled how he would walk six kilometers to school during the hot weather while fasting when I was barely 13 years old. "Ask any child to do that and he will be horrified," he laughed.

"We had plenty of time, and it would be spent mostly at the Bin Haider mosque near our house. Some days my elder brother would drive us to another mosque in Al Ghusais. We had a Volkswagen and had to navigate sand dunes to reach to the mosque, which was a lot of fun.”


In the past, it was customary for houses to open their doors to strangers who came to break their fast during Ramadan, according to Emirati author Sheikha Hend Bint Faisal Al Qassimi. “They would even pack extra food for their suhoor,” she said.

“My grandma would search for the poor in low-income areas and would drop off packages of a month's supply of rice, sugar, salt, dates, Vimto, toothpaste, and toothbrushes.”


Beyond the meals, Ramadan in the past was also a time for family gatherings and religious stories. Al Qassimi recalled how they would play with the children who came with their parents to collect harees. "We had a big garden and playground where we would swing on the swings, climb trees, and feed the farm animals. Often we would visit the nearby mosque, which had a grocer next to it, to buy sweet treats. I really enjoyed those simple pleasures of life, and I miss them dearly."

Emirati entrepreneur Laila Bin Hareb Almheiri, 51, fondly recalls her earliest Ramadan memories of sitting next to her mum and beating harees, while breaking the fast with just dates and harees on the floor. She laments that today's iftar meals have become extravagant and the simple pleasures of the past are often forgotten.

"We didn't have a lot back in those days, but we had the warmth of the family. We used to eagerly anticipate the Ramadan quiz on TV, but now, with the overload of everything on Netflix, YouTube, and social media, nothing feels quite as special."

An Emirati business owner said the true essence of Ramadan has been diluted by the ”insatiable monster of consumerism” in most big cities around world. “Ramadan is meant to be time of restraint, introspection and repentance but rising consumerism has made it into a time of overindulgence. In the past, iftar was a simple yet special occasion that brought families together. Now, it has become an ostentatious affair for networking and excessive indulgence.”


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