Video: Meet the Pakistani expat who hands out free food in Dubai every day

Dhanusha Gokulan (Principal Correspondent)/Dubai Filed on September 24, 2019 | Last updated on September 24, 2019 at 06.48 am
Pakistani, expat, Shahid Mahmood, Al Diyafah Street , Satwa, free, pizza,
Shahid Mahmood distributes pizza to Dubai residents.-Photo by Rahul Gajjar/Khaleej Times

This has been going on for three years now.

At 7pm, Pakistani expat Shahid Mahmood makes his way from a nearby mosque to Al Diyafah Street in Dubai's Satwa area. As he walks past the small, crowded shops, men and some women call out: 'Good evening, Arbab', 'Hello, Arbab'.

By 7.20pm, the crowd swells - irrespective of weather conditions. And in just 10 minutes, nearly 400 people have already lined up in front of a food stall to collect their free pizza slice from Mahmood.

This has been going on for three years now.

Spending Dh1,500 per day, Mahmood distributes a total of 416 pizza slices to the hungry thrice a week. On weekends, the 'Arbab' of Satwa hands out nearly 700 slices to passersby.

"On some days, I distribute shawarmas. On other days, I give rice and chicken, and sometimes, burgers," said Mahmood, while giving pizzas away.

The Dubai-based businessman, who has been in the UAE since 1975, began distributing food to Satwa residents and visitors in the summer of 2017.

So, who gets a slice?

"I give food to everyone who is hungry and wants to eat a slice. There are no class-wise distinctions made. Rich and poor, men and women - everyone gets a free meal," said Mahmood.

However, many of his regulars are people who cannot afford a square meal.

Depending on the restaurant, the food is distributed on the same spot every day. "It has become habitual for most people," he explained.

What happens when he's away?

Even if Mahmood is not in town, people still get their free food.

"I have an understanding with Americana, the franchise owners of Pizza Hut. They give me a good price. I have an agreement with four restaurants in Satwa area. When I am not here, the staff distribute to the people," he told Khaleej Times.

A schedule has been handed over to four restaurants he works with. They supply food to hungry with or without the Arbab.

"It has become a habit for us," said a Pizza Hut employee.

"It's automatic now. Three times a week, we take care of distributions. We make about 52 large pizzas on weekdays. On some days, we have to make more."

Speaking about how he can afford such distributions, Mahmood said: "I am financially secure. My kids are in Canada; they are also well settled. Now, whatever I make from my business, I give it away in charity. It is something I want to do until the end of my days."


Dhanusha Gokulan

Originally from India, Dhanusha Gokulan has been working as a journalist for over ten years. For Khaleej Times, she covers NRI affairs, civil aviation, and immigration issues among other things. She completed her BA in Journalism, Economics and English Literature from Mangalore University in 2008 and is currently pursuing her MA in Leadership and Innovation in Contemporary Media at the American University in Dubai. In her spare time, she dabbles with some singing/songwriting, loves food, and is mom to an over-enthusiastic Labrador retriever. Tweet at her @shootsprintrite.

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