Abu Dhabi: As dusk sets in, throngs of people head to the massive tents adjoining the Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque where, in the company of thousands of others, they end their fast while the evening call to prayer can be heard from the country’s largest mosque.
This heartwarming scene has become a Ramadan fixture at the Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which has seen more than 20,000 residents gather for iftar each day this year. In fact, more than 600,000 people are expected to partake of the free meals offered after sundown during Ramadan, representatives from the Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque Centre (SZGMC) which organises the iftars told Gulf News.
The meals are served in more than 10 air-conditioned tents that have been set up on the in the lower gardens of the mosque. Women and children are seated separately from men in the iftar tents, each of which can accommodate about 1,500 people.
“Since the passing of the UAE’s founding father, Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, in 2004, the Ramadan iftars have been offered at the mosque. This charitable initiative respects Shaikh Zayed’s legacy and demonstrates Abu Dhabi government’s commitment to helping the needy, whether they reside in the country or elsewhere,” Yousuf Al Obaidli, director of the SZGMC, told Gulf News.
Each year, more and more people have been flocking to the mosque for iftar. In 2011, half-a-million people broke their fast at the tents, and mosque authorities expect to see at least a 100,000 more people this year.
Preparing the meals for so many people does, however, calls for a Herculean effort on a daily basis. Nearly six hours of cooking by chefs at the Armed Forces Officers Club in the capital sees them prepare about 10,000 whole chickens, 6,000 kilos of uncooked rice and more than a 1,000 kilogrammes each of cucumbers, lettuce and carrots into wholesome meals for the fasting multitudes.
In addition, several organisations — including the Department of Civil Defence, Abu Dhabi Police and the Centre of Waste Management — provide nearly a 100 volunteers who work closely with SZGMC to ensure that the iftar programme runs smoothly during the Holy Month.
Rather unsurprisingly, Fridays see the greatest number of people on the mosque grounds, with nearly 30,000 people availing of iftar, the SZGMC said.
Religious activities at the mosque also continue well after iftar, with the nightly Taraweeh prayers being led by well-known imams like Shaikh Mishary Al Afasi and Shaikh Idrees Abkar, said Abdul Aziz Al Maamari, acting director of communication and cultural activities at the SZGMC.
“To accommodate a large number of worshippers and to make the experience comfortable [for them] during the summer months, outdoor coolers have been installed. Approximately 10,000 worshippers gather every day for these Taraweeh prayers, which is an increase on previous years,” Al Maamari added.