How iftar brings a quiet pause to old Dubai during Ramadan

Peace descends on the busy streets of Deira as workers break their fast on shop floors

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People bargain for gold at the souq, tourists walk through the historic markets and porters haul goods on handcarts through the labyrinthine alleyways.

It seems like any other day in one of Dubai’s oldest and most densely populated districts.

But once the sun begins to set over Deira during Ramadan, the neighbourhood starts to change.

People purchase freshly cut watermelon and samosas from street stalls and small tandoor bakeries are thronged.

Workers start to unfurl carpets or plastic lining on many shop floors, places are set and food laid out. It is the same in scores of shops across the old town.

“At iftar, all of us are together,” said Adam Abd Al Rahman, an Egyptian, who was preparing to break his fast by sitting on the floor of the shop he works in selling tourist items. “It is extra special.”

Mr Al Rahman and his colleagues, whose shop is close to the gold souq, will have a simple meal together, typically consisting of dates, rice, bread, curried meat or vegetables, a piece of fruit and juice.

“There is not a manager, not a worker, not a salesman or not a cleaner – all of us are the same – the same food, the same chairs, the same everything,” he said.

'Like a family'

Taj Muhammad has worked in Deira for about seven years and also was about to break his fast on the shop floor.

“We will sit together and eat together,” said Mr Muhammad, who was born in Pakistan but grew up in Afghanistan.

“It is not like he is a senior or he is a junior. We are living like brothers, like a family.”

Mr Al Rahman, who has been in Dubai since 2011, said people changed during Ramadan, were more forgiving and there was no shouting like in normal times.

Gaza was also on people’s minds, he said. “People have a bad feeling about the situation in Palestine.”

Deira is a place where it is possible to purchase anything from gold bracelets and mobile phones to ornate Turkish-made lanterns.

But Mr Al Rahman said business takes a back seat during the holy month and work is not a priority.

“People do not care 100 per cent about business at this time,” he said.

“If someone would like to catch a customer, he is welcome. If not, we do not care.

“What is most important is praying, reading the Quran and reading some Hadiths,” he said. “Our mind is clearer. All of us try to do better.”

Curiosity from visitors

Ramadan now takes place during the traditional tourist season.

Guides were leading groups from China to America through the souq as the sun was about to set.

Mr Muhammad said tourists did ask them about Ramadan and why they were eating together in their shops.

“Sometimes they will try some food,” he said. “They haven't tried these kinds of things in their country, like the spices. They see us and we are all sitting together, like friends and family, so that's why they are surprised.”

Sher Khan, an Afghan resident who has been working in Deira about six years in an adjacent shop, agrees.

“Tourists some to the shop and say, 'very nice',” he said. “They take a little taste with us.”

Before sunset, charities distribute boxes of food to those who need it the most. Mosques also organise free iftars on the streets outside. And in the minutes before the maghrib prayer that marks the end of the fast sounds out across the old town, quiet descends.

The bright lights of shops selling everything from spices to carpets then start to dim. Sunset falls, people break their fast and the busy world outside can wait.

After iftar, many people walk to the neighbourhood mosques. The sounds of quiet prayer filter out across the old town, through the small side streets, into the souqs and drift out over Dubai Creek.

And when workers return to their jobs, life goes on, but at a slower pace.

“We will not fight for business,” said Mr Al Rahman.

“We trust that business comes from Allah.”

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Updated: March 19, 2024, 12:54 PM