Look: UAE residents skip family Iftars during Ramadan, volunteer at labour camps instead

A large number of people are spending all their time during Ramadan helping those in need


Nasreen Abdulla

Published: Wed 12 Apr 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Wed 12 Apr 2023, 6:56 PM

In the last 15 years, Shajil Shoukath has had iftar with his family only during the two years of Covid-19 lockdown. Otherwise, the Indian expat spends all 30 days of Ramadan in workers' accommodations in DIP and Sajaa, distributing Iftar for more than 12,000 labourers.

“Even if I tried to have Iftar with my family, by 4pm, I would start to get restless,” he said. “There is something very calming about going and spending time in the camps.”

Every day during Iftar, Shajil’s meal comprises of a date and a piece of fruit. “Once we finish distributing, there are just a few pieces of fruit and dates left,” he said. “But that small meal is much more fulfilling than a grand buffet in a 5-star hotel.”

Like Shajil, there are thousands of volunteers who spend all their time during Ramadan, actively helping those in need in the country. Foregoing the chance to sit down with their families and have a sumptuous Iftar, they opt to head to labour camps and mosques to coordinate and distribute meals across the country. They form the lifeline of the extensive network of generosity that sees thousands get free meals during Ramadan.

A collective

Fatma Masoud Alawadhi and her neighbour Kelly Harvarde, along with three others, first met when they started the 'Ramadan Fridge' initiative in 2016 that put out food in refrigerators for those who needed it. But when Covid struck and the campaign had to be stopped, the group began looking for other ways to give back to the community. That is when they hit upon the idea of distributing meals in the Satwa Mosque. For the last two years, Fatma has been spending every day at the mosque distributing meals as opposed to eating with her family.

“This group has become my family,” she said. “Every day I keep one-and-a half hours of my day aside to spend with them and give back to the community. In fact, if I don’t go, I feel like there is something wrong with my day.”

According to Fatma, the most beautiful feeling is when children come up to her with their money. “Some bring Dh10 which is all their pocket money,” she said.

“Others bring money from their piggy banks and give coins. It makes me tear up to see how these children have the spirit of giving. That is one of the reasons why we do this. To spread the message of giving.”

Community spirit

For Australian-born Christine, volunteering is the culmination of becoming a Muslim. The expat came to the UAE to work at Expo 2020 and converted to Islam two-and-a-half years ago. This year, every day she has been spending her time distributing packages among workers at a mosque. Accompanied by a group of other volunteers, Christine arrives at the mosque daily at a little after 4pm to pack and distribute food and other items among people.

“Around 3pm, I start to get a little hungry,” she said. “That is when I start to head to mosque. Once there, I don’t even remember about my hunger until it is time to break the fast. The whole purpose of Ramadan is to get closer to God and start giving. I give by spending my time with the community and it is the most beautiful thing. I feel like my Ramadan has become so much easier with this act.”

Indian expat Mashood Shah is another volunteer who spends his entire month at workers' accommodations. “I have always been a very socially active person, even before I came to Dubai,” he said. “So, my family knows how important it is for me to be out there and doing what I can.”

Starting his volunteering since 2012, Mashood mainly volunteers at labour accommodations in Sonapur.


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