PHOTOS: Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque community Iftar bridges cultures during Ramadan

Sanobar Sabah

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In its decade-long existence, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (SZGM) in Abu Dhabi has carved a niche for itself as a cultural space of its own where residents and visitors of all nationalities and religious and cultural backgrounds visit to experience the Islamic values of sharing and compassion.

The experience becomes even more intimate during Ramadan when the mosque hosts thousands of worshippers for Iftar (breaking of fast at the sunset). Men and women, children and elderly, they come from all walks and from different backgrounds.

It is not just a spectacle watching thousands converge at the same time but also a logistical masterclass considering the smooth manner in which they are all served food, not to mention the backroom kitchen activities, and beyond.

Kulsoom Zakir, a Pakistani born and raised in Abu Dhabi, speaks fondly of her first Iftar at the SZGM.

“I had never seen so many people sit side by side for Iftar. My experience at the mosque is the closest I have come to experiencing the true spirit of Ramadan,” she said adding that people are bound by a feeling of compassion. “The spirit of Ramadan so seamlessly weaves into worship and sacrifice.”

Nilofar Hasan and her family are frequent visitors of the mosque during Ramadan. “We visited the mosque last year during the last 10 nights of Ramadan. It was very crowded and yet the organization was flawless. The feeling of unity that the place evokes during Ramadan is incredible,” she said.

For a lot of non-Muslims visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque during Ramadan is a tradition of sorts and an opportunity to build cultural bridges.

Louise Miles-Shepherd, a British national, has been taking her son to the mosque for four years in a row. “From the firing of the canon to the lovely volunteers at the mosque answering my son’s questions patiently, the annual visit is certainly a memorable event for us,” she said.

Her son, Harry, has been visiting the mosque every year since he was 5. He’s learnt through the experience that, “Ramadan is a time for caring and for showing kindness to those that are less fortunate.”

Alia Khan, also a British national, finds the experience and tranquility of SZGM, unique. “The stillness and calm of the mosque is in contrast with the hustle and bustle of the Iftar meal,” she says.

“Sharing a meal at the mosque is a lesson in humility as it allows our children to appreciate the sense of togetherness that is so important in Ramadan. So many different people come together to organize and prepare the meals and it is symbolic of what Ramadan means,” Khan remarked.

The feeling of togetherness transcends to people of different faiths and cultures.

Anita Bhatia, an Indian living in Dubai fasts during Ramadan. A regular visitor at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Bhatia says, “The mosque feels symbolic of the peace and tolerance observed in the UAE.”

Muhammad Majid of Pakistan recently drove all the way from Dubai with his friends to have Iftar at the Zayed mosque. “The drive while fasting was totally worth it and we felt spiritually stimulated after sharing the Iftar meal with such a large number of people,” Majid said.

Opened to public in 2007, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque serves Iftar to around 35,000 people throughout the month of Ramadan. The meals are prepared at the Armed Forces Officers Club & Hotel.