Photo essay: Third-generation sellers at Abu Dhabi carpet souq loved by Sheikh Zayed

Merchants of Mina Souq have fond memories of meeting the UAE's Founding Father

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The sellers at Mina Souq are all second-generation and third-generation Abu Dhabi residents from Katawaz in Afghanistan's south-eastern Paktika province, or Balochistan.

The majority of owners of the carpet shops – about 60 of them – are from Paktika.

They are all brothers, cousins and relatives from the same province and each of them can recall fond memories with the UAE's Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Five years ago, Moosa Khan, an Afghan carpet merchant, became a social media star when he was filmed refusing a high offer on a carpet featuring the image of Sheikh Zayed.

It still hangs in the shop with another image of Mr Khan with UAE President Sheikh Mohamed.

Seeing images of the Founding Father is common at the once-bustling souq.

"He is our father. Don't you have a picture of your father?" said carpet merchant Mohamed Hussain, 60.

The father of eight said the market used to be an open space where hawkers sold pottery, carpets and various items.

"It was near the sea and people slept on the sand," he said.

He recalled a time when a man came to the market at 2am asking his father and others what they needed.

"They said they needed shade. They were sleeping on the sand and wanted shelter," he said.

The next morning, Mr Hussain said they woke up to the sounds of tractors demolishing the area.

The man who had visited them turned out to be Sheikh Zayed and within three months the carpet market was built.

There are no official records of when this took place, but it's estimated to be about 1995 or 1996.

"Our father [Sheikh Zayed] used to visit us every week," he said. "When he first came, he bought two tea pots, a tray and a bowl from my father," said Mr Hussain, who arrived in the UAE when he was a young boy.

Abdul Hameed Khan also remembers Sheikh Zayed buying Arabic jalsas [seating] and a carpet with a picture of Sheikh Zayed with his son, the late Sheikh Khalifa.

"He came every Ramadan after Asr prayers. My father used to sit in the shop while I'd be playing outside. We would run outside when we saw him in his white Mercedes," Mr Khan said.

"Sheikh Khalifa would be driving the car and his aide Akbar would be sitting in the back. Sheikh Zayed would come in and ask for 10 or 20 jalsas. He didn't care about the jalsas, or needed anything, but he cared about us.

"He wanted to support us and we were happy to see him. This was Baba [father] Zayed," he said.

The carpets rolled up and stacked together in the small shops are mostly from Turkey, and prices range from a few thousand dirhams up to Dh12,000 ($3,267).

Now, the shop's monthly profits average between Dh5,000 and Dh6,000.

The sellers live in two-bedroom flats above their shops where accommodation was once free. The rents have increased to Dh40,000 a year.

"Things have become more expensive, but this is home to us," said Abdul Rahman Faizal. "Many of us have spent more time here than our home countries. Soon, I'll bring my sons to run the shop."

Updated: November 03, 2023, 6:01 PM