Muslims across the UAE are observing their first Ramadan since 2019 without the heaviest coronavirus health restrictions in place.
Prayer times are back to normal, daily mosque lessons and lectures have resumed, and drinking water can be distributed to worshippers once it is bottled, the National Emergency, Crisis and Disaster Management Authority said last week.
Taraweeh prayers, which take place after isha throughout the holy month, and tahajjud prayers, those performed between midnight and dawn, will be held in mosques again.
Copies of the Quran can be provided in mosques once they are sterilised, while women's prayer halls have returned to pre-coronavirus capacity, and iftar tents mean a welcome return to breaking the fast with fellow worshippers.
While mosque goers must be masked indoors, bring their own prayer mats and keeper a distance of at least a metre from their neighbour at prayer and in communal spaces, Muslims who spoke to The National said this Ramadan feels like the holy month they cherished before everything changed in 2020.
Ramadan is a 'beautiful month'
Zoudhi Iskandar, a Palestinian-American, is offering prayers at his community mosque in Al Furjan in Dubai after praying at home for two Ramadans.
“I feel very relaxed this Ramadan. I’m an old man, and the pandemic was very hard for me. I wouldn’t go out for weeks,” Mr Iskandar, who is 76, said.
“Now, I’m going out again and socialising. This Ramadan feels almost normal. We still have to wear our masks while at prayer, but at least we can socialise with people and meet comfortably with them.”
Mr Iskandar said that he was “very happy” to be offering prayers at the mosque, as well as taking iftar with his daughter and grandchildren, who live in his neighbourhood.
Only now does Mr Iskandar, who has had three doses of coronavirus vaccine, feel “comfortable” in going out again.
“The cases are low and the rules are more relaxed. Ramadan is a beautiful month, and I’m very happy that I can come to the mosque again to pray.”
On Tuesday, the UAE reported 244 Covid-19 cases — the lowest daily tally since December 17.
Daily case numbers have remained at less than 400 since March 7, which was also the date of the last recorded death in the Emirates.
Savouring the 'feeling of community'
Mohammed Yunous, 37, a Pakistani lorry driver from Al Furjan, said iftar meals at the mosques are a blessing.
His wife and children live in Pakistan, so he likes breaking his fast with other worshippers.
“It is an indescribable feeling to be able to pray taraweeh at the mosque again. It’s such a lovely feeling of community, and we feel more connected with our religion,” he said.
“And iftar at mosques is something we really missed. It’s really a blessing for all of us who don’t have our families here and want to eat with someone.
“It all feels normal again,” Mr Yunous said. “I don’t mind wearing masks inside, but I just hope the mosque stays open for taraweeh prayers.”
A chance to reunite
Ayesha Sohail, a Pakistani who lives in Ajman, said taking part in taraweeh prayers on the first night of Ramadan was exciting.
“We all were very happy when we found out that the prayers will be held in the mosques again, and that everything was going to be normal at the female halls,” she said.
Ms Sohail runs a Facebook group called UAE Fusion Socialites Global, which has more than 23,500 followers.
She said many of the members are going organise an iftar party to celebrate “things returning to normal”.
“A lot of us haven’t seen each other since the pandemic hit, so we’re looking forward to meeting again for iftar.”