ABU DHABI // Part of the UAE's heritage, shooting was once a means of survival in the desert. It has traditions in Islam - the Prophet Mohammed said: "Teach your children swimming, archery and horse riding." Archery was overtaken by shooting but now that hunting is illegal, the Caracal club in the capital is the only place in the country for people to learn the sport, other than the Sharjah shooting club.
While shooting used to primarily be practised by men, at this year's Ramadan competition, all eyes will be focused on the women and children, where 300 shooters, from as far as Dubai, Liwa and Madinat Zayed, will compete for the coveted title and Dh10,000 prize. It is the first time that a category for 10 to 14 year olds has been added, the juniors shooting 22 calibre rifles. Meanwhile, more women are expected to be taking part this year in the 9mm pistol category, showing the sport's growing popularity amongst the emirate's females.
Alya Alyas, 32, is one of the female competitors. "When I was young, my dad used to take me to do clay shooting at the Jebel Ali club so I've always been interested in shooting," she says. It was last year that she began to take it seriously and to compete. Her first experience was when she took part in Ministry of Presidential Affairs' competition, hosted and organised by Caracal. She says she shoots because it is an entrenched part of Islam, coming from the Prophet Mohammed's hadith. Last year, the mother of two came fifth and this year, she made it to second place, and her hunger for victory is not letting up. "Many more women are interested in shooting now but I'm still not seeing the same numbers actually coming to do it," she says.
Her husband and family are very supportive, she says, a vital factor which has helped her development. "I love challenges, and they know that," she says. "The standard of the women competing is rising very quickly though, there is no comparison to last year," she says. Mansour, Saood and Ahmed bin Baroot, are three brothers who will be competing for the first time. In spite of their young years, they do not fear the challenge.
Ahmed, 10, has been shooting for just two months. "Doing it long distance is difficult," he admits, but says he is unperturbed by competition. "We're going to win," he smiles, as his eyes light up at the thought of victory. Saood, 11, says it is because of his father, Obaid, that he to shoots. "I have seen him shooting all my life. I love learning, it's exciting." Their father has been shooting since a child. "Everyone in the family shoots," he says. "It's normal for the men of the family, a tradition. I used to go out with my grandfather in the days of hunting but I only learnt later."
He brings his three sons to the club twice a week to take lessons, he himself shooting three or four times. "After school, the boys don't have much to do, so I take them to learn swimming and shooting, like the hadith says from the Prophet Mohammed. They are skills we are meant to learn in Islam." He says that the competition, which he too will compete in this year, gives him a sense of camaraderie, being a part of something which motivates him to improve his skills further. It is, he says, the same for his children.
"It makes them want to be better, to be the best," he says. Six competitors line up at a time to take part in the competition in the three categories. They are scored out of 100 for their performance shooting the targets which are 15 metres away from the adults and 10 from the children. Mariam al Hosani, 27, is hooked on shooting and now trains for the Ramadan competition and the competition at the Ministry of Presidential Affairs.
"It's important to compete," she says, "it's a great way to improve and is very motivating." Entry to the competition, which finishes on August 31, costs Dh100 for children and Dh300 for adults, competing for prizes of up to Dh10,000. Jamal al Ahmed, one of the club's range managers, says that the competition has grown each year since it began in 2008. "The standard has improved every year as people become more involved," he says. "But more and more people want to participate, especially women and children, which is why we've added the extra category this year for the children."
Shooting academies are now opening up around the country at clubs including Jebel Ali and Sharjah, inspired by the recent international success of some of the country's top competitors such as Sheikh Ahmed bin Hashar, who made history in Athens in 2004 when he won the nation's first Olympic gold medal, in the men's double-trap shooting event. firstname.lastname@example.org