Al Ain resident tells of how UAE became home after tearful first Ramadan in 1978

Muneefa Al Khatib built a joyful life in the UAE with her husband, who helped to shape the Garden City

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Muneefa Al Khatib's face was stained with tears as she observed her first Ramadan in the UAE in August 1978.

She wept for the family she had left behind months earlier in Ein Al Hilweh, Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp.

At the age of 23, she was still taking her first uncertain steps on her journey in the Emirates that still continues decades later.

She had arrived in the country in April to join her fiancee and start a family.

She still remembers being dressed in white as she was taken from Abu Dhabi Airport to the couple's first home in the Oud Al Touba neighbourhood of Al Ain.

Those first few months were not easy for her.

A cherished photograph of Muneefa Al Khatib’s late husband, Adnan. (centre).  Pawan Singh / The National

“My late husband was comforting me all the time and telling me — what I came to later believe — that I would not only get used to it here, but would also love it,” she said.

She said it was a different atmosphere from the one she was used to in Lebanon, where her family would gather to mark the holy month.

“I came to a home where it was only my husband and I during Ramadan,” she said.

The area where the couple lived was made of mostly traditional homes. The newly-weds lived in one of only two villas.

Ms Muneefa bought her grocery from a small shop, the only one in the neighbourhood.

“Some items I couldn’t find here. I remember when I got pregnant with my first child I was craving for a cake I used to have in Lebanon but I couldn’t find it,” she said.

The couple — both from Safad subdistrict in Palestine — were engaged in Lebanon before Ms Muneefa followed her future husband Adnan Al Khatib to the UAE on a visit visa.

She recalls the visa stating her sponsor as the “Court of the Ruler's Representative in the Eastern Province".

Her husband graduated from Cairo University and travelled to Abu Dhabi in 1974 to work for Al Ain Municipality as an engineer.

They not only went on to build a life in Al Ain, but she proudly recalls how her husband helped to shape the Garden City itself.

Husband helped Garden City bloom

Together, the couple had six sons and one daughter. The family continue to live in the UAE.

“He was the head of many projects in the city including ones related to water desalination and groundwater extraction,” she said.

“Have you heard of the Green Mubazzarah park and hot springs at the door of Jebel Hafeet? My husband dug it.”

She said he built mosques, swimming pools, and many other projects, often working until 11pm to help turn grand plans for Al Ain into a reality.

Muneefa Al Khatib with grandson Abdullah Al Khatib, 10. Pawan Singh / The National

Poignant reminders all around in Al Ain

The roof covering shops at the central market in Al Ain was designed by her husband.

“I still go there to buy fish from the market,” she said.

At the sight of a monument at the entrance of the industrial area in Al Ain, Ms Muneefa remembers her husband and prays for his soul.

“He designed it and built it using scrap parts,” she said.

“Many people witnessed the transformation of the country in 50 years but my husband took part in it.

“To be honest It never occurred to my mind that the country would accomplish this impressive progress in such a short time.”

Unifying spirit of Ramadan

Her eldest son Hazim, born in 1979, recalls the close-knit neighbourhood he grew up in.

“It was like a small village where everyone knew one another,” he said. “I still remember in Ramadan how men got together for iftar and women also did the same.”

Following Eid prayers in one of two mosques in the area, the Imam and a number of elderly men would tour the neighbourhood knocking on doors to greet people and wish them a happy Eid.

He said what used to be few scattered homes was now a busy city with shopping centres, clinics, hospitals and schools

“Al Ain has flourished into a big and busy city where you find everything you need. Even the desert areas have become inhabited,” he said.

Ms Muneefa lost two of her sons in 2006 and 2018 to aplastic anaemia — a condition that occurs when the body fails to produce sufficient new blood cells. Her husband died in 2009.

“Almost every detail of my life happened here,” she said. “My marriage, the birth of all of my children and the death of my husband, and even his burial.

“The UAE is home to all of us.”

Updated: April 15, 2022, 6:00 PM