Ramadan traditions that families in UAE treasure during the first iftar

Residents cherish time spent exchanging stories with the younger generation

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The first iftar of 2023 was an opportunity for many families to catch up.

Parents recounted memories of how people ended daily fasts when they were young, as they introduced children to traditions passed down through generations.

For as long as she can remember, Abu Dhabi resident Layali Al Junibi, 30, has spent the first Ramadan iftar with close relatives at her grandfather’s home in the UAE capital.

Thursday was no exception as four generations of the Emirati family gathered, all bringing special meals to share with more than 25 people around the family table.

It is a time for us to catch up with each other
Layali Al Junibi, Emirati mother

“It was a full house and it’s always been at my grandfather’s house,” said Ms Al Junibi, the mother of four boys aged between 13 and five.

“On the first day of Ramadan we must all come together. You can spend the second day at home but the first must be with the extended family."

Meeting your family during Ramadan is not like normal days, she said.

"We can stay up late, find out how each person is doing and what is happening in everyone’s lives. It is a time for us to catch up with each other.”

Her seven-year-old son Theyab enjoys baking cakes so they took a special biscuit and cream creation that she helped him prepare, to add to the table filled with Ramadan delicacies.

Harees, a popular traditional porridge-like dish prepared by cooking wheat for several hours with meat added, is a must for iftar.

Another dish she remembers from childhood is thereed ― slow-cooked stew with chicken and roasted vegetables served on top of a traditional Emirati bread ― and a key part of a Ramadan meal.

The first iftar on Thursday evening mainly took place outdoors with people enjoying the cool evening weather the UAE is experiencing.

Several families have put up tents where extended family, friends and neighbours will be invited for Ramadan meals later in the week.

Family bonding time

For Amna Al Obeidli, a 33-year-old Emirati, the first iftar was about sharing the significance of prayers with her young children aged eight, six and three.

Connecting with her children, as she and her husband answer their questions while sharing a Ramadan meal is key to the start of the holy month.

“The first Ramadan is with the immediate family, my husband, the kids and I. The first day is very important because it’s the only time in the day all of us meet together,” said Ms Al Obeidli who works in the health services sector.

“You can see the bonding around the table, the children know we are available and they ask us all sorts of questions.

“They want to know about fasting, why it’s done in this month and about suhoor [meal eaten before dawn].

“We explain more about the times that we pray, why we pray and how we do this for Allah.”

The children were also busy preparing greeting cards to give to cousins, aunts and uncles who they would meet during the holy month’s second iftar on Friday. More than 30 relatives will gather in Abu Dhabi, Ms Al Obeidli said.

Ramadan this year is even more special as the anxiety of Covid-19 no longer lingers.

“During Covid, we could not go outside,” she said.

“Now the children go out before iftar to buy laban with their father.

“There are so many rituals the children are used to that we could not do in previous years.

“Everybody is happy to go back to how it was before Covid.”

A '24-carat pure gold' life

Indian expatriate Fajila Azad has twin reasons to give thanks this Ramadan.

The freelance writer received a golden visa for her work as an author of self-help books in the Tamil-language.

“This Ramadan is a beautiful time for me as I got the golden visa and my new book is out and is being translated into English,” said the writer of a motivational book, 24-carat life.

“I shared the news with my family during iftar. My book is about living a life that is pure gold, without regret.

“It was a joy to greet everyone after a long time because everyone is busy with their own lives.”

About 50 relatives gathered in the garden of a cousin’s home in Dubai to feast on ouzi, well-marinated goat meat flavoured with spices, eggs and nuts, the main iftar meal.

Ms Azad has lived in the UAE for more than 30 years and the past three years have been tough due to the fear of the spread of infections during the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is the most welcome Ramadan because there is hope we can now celebrate like we used to,” she said.

“There is no mind-block anymore about Covid.

“Meeting for iftar is good for the mind because you need to pray, share food and meet your friends and family to stay content with life.”

Updated: March 24, 2023, 2:51 PM