Ramadan 2020: Family prepares for changes to their usual Ramadan rituals

Restrictions on gatherings and movement to prevent the spread of coronavirus has led one family to find new ways to help others and connect with their friends

RAK, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , April 23– 2020 :- Mohammed Al Shehhi with his father Ahmed Saeed Alghas Al Shehhi at their home in Ras Al Khaimah.  (Pawan Singh / The National) For News/Standalone/Online/Instagram. Story by Ruba
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Letting go of some of Ramadan's annual rituals will not be easy for the Al Shahhi family, who have spent the past 20 years preparing iftar meals for low-income workers and their neighbours in Ras Al Khaimah.

Previously, the family would cook enough meals to feed more than 20 people a day. The food would be served in a Ramadan tent they set up beside their home between the mountains of the country's northernmost emirate.

“It is definitely going to be a different [Ramadan] and will have to change many rituals associated with the holy month,” said Mohammed Al Shahhi, a 25-year-old Emirati who lives with his family in Al Jeer.

In years past, the men of the house would have iftar with the workers and their male neighbours in the test, while the women broke their fast together in the house.

It is definitely going to be a different [Ramadan] and will have to change many rituals associated with the holy month

“We usually start preparing for Ramadan two weeks in advance but now everything had to be changed and we won’t be able to set up the tent and share iftar meals with others due to the coronavirus,” he said.

To avoid large gatherings, which are typical of the holy month, the UAE Fatwa Council decreed that iftar and suhoor tents would not be erected this year. Instead, charities are working to deliver food to those who typically relied on iftar tents for meals.

The Al Shahhi's plan to do something similar, so as not to let traditions slip.

Instead of inviting people over, the family have donated money to a restaurant which will prepare and deliver meals to workers on their behalf.

"My parents were worried that  they will not be able to help others this year but when I told them about the food delivery idea they became extremely happy and relieved,” said Mohammed, who works at the Ministry of Interior and lives with his parents, one brother and two sisters. Part of the reason he enjoys Ramadan is because he can spend more time with them.

“On the bright side, we will have the chance to have iftar all together this year,” he said.

The Council also banned praying in mosques, saying tarawih – an extra extended prayer that is held daily during Ramadan after the evening prayers at a mosque - must instead be performed at home.

Mohammed said his family would pray together at home instead this year, with his father, Ahmad, leading tarawih.

“We used to do tarawih at the mosque and sit down all together afterwards and have some sweets and hot drinks prepared by the women at home,” he said.

“But this time we will pray at home like we do these days as all the mosques are closed.”

Ahmad, 80, said he will miss meeting his friends this year.

“We used to meet every day during Ramadan but now we can't.

“I ask my son to call them on the phone to catch up and chat but the phone can't replace the gatherings that we used to enjoy,” he said.

“But we respect our government efforts and we need to follow their orders to control the virus."

After tarawih, men of all ages would drive to the beachfront and spend the rest of the evening by the sea.

“We used to play football and volleyball at the beach while old men sat next to the water and watched us play,” said Mohammed.

“I also used to go with my friends to Dubai or other emirates during the weekend to either have Iftar at a friend’s house or at a restaurant but we will replace it with video calls,” he said.

His sister Ayisha, a 27-year-old mother-of-three, said she is planning to organise online competitions to entertain the family.

“We will not spend too much time at the kitchen preparing food like we used to do in the past years, although we used to enjoy it a lot,” she said.

“But we will use the extra time in doing more spiritual rituals and organising online fun activities for both kids and grown-ups.

“And we will reward them with small amounts of money that can be sent online."