After the UAE became one federation in 1971, and as the country and its cities developed, the old area of Al Sharq was almost abandoned by Emirati families as they moved to live and work in the new city developments. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: Every Dh5 note has a picture of the Salem Al Mutawa mosque located in the Al Sharq area. Once the heartbeat of Khor Fakkan city, today you can barely feel its pulse.

Al Sharq area overlooks Khor Fakkan Corniche and more than 30 years ago, was the hustling bustling neighbourhood in the city, as traders, arriving at Khor Fakkan Port, used to flock to its souq among shops, which sold everything from fabrics to groceries to food.

Choosing the mosque, located in this area, as a symbol for one of the denominations of the national currency shows the significance of Al Sharq area and the major trading role it played long ago.

It is said that the mosque on the five dirham note was built some 200 years ago using gravel and palm tree trunks. The mosque was renovated in March this year and the residents living in that area now pray there. It has recently also been named after Salem Al Mutawa, a late resident of that area, who never missed any of the five prayer times at the mosque. A well which was dug in the mosque for ablution still provides sweet water. The sea is 20 metres away from this mosque.

The Al Sharq area currently houses several hundreds of people, mostly shopkeepers who work at the old style souq, which still stands alive to tell the tales of bygone years.

Thirty years ago, Al Sharq area was inhabited by Emiratis mostly and some Arabs. After the UAE became one federation in 1971, and as the country and its cities developed, the old area of Al Sharq became almost abandoned by Emirati families as they moved to live and work in the new city developments. Old Emirati residents still remember the first clinic in Khor Fakkan, which was located in the Al Sharq neighbourhood. Today, that clinic structure has become a shop for car polishing.

The Al Sharq area also had the first Khor Fakkan municipality building, which has also been abandoned. It also has a building which housed a branch of the British Bank, the first bank at that time. However, old residents of the area say the branch was closed after the security guard there was killed in that building long ago.

Trading port

Ali Abdullah Al Mirza, an 81-year-old Emirati trader and fisherman, who was a former resident of Al Sharq area, said it (the area) was the heart of Khor Fakkan city years ago because it overlooked the sea.

"It was a very busy area because ships, carrying goods and traders from around the world, would arrive to the city's port for trading purposes. It also helped the people of this city to travel to various destinations which helped open up their minds and learn a lot," said Al Mirza, who lives in another neighbourhood not far from the Al Sharq area.

Talking about how Al Sharq area looked in those days, Al Mirza said: "There were around 300 houses in this area at that time with the majority being [of] Emirati families and some Arabs. The houses were built of palm tree trunks and stones and were close to each other. The two most famous families who lived in the area were Al Naqbi families and Al Hammadi families,"

Al Mirza said although he moved to another neighbourhood, his fondest memories are of the Al Sharq area, where he spent most of his youngdays.

Sulaiman Al Naqbi, another Emirati who lived in the Al Sharq area, said: "The old souq, which has kept its old style in terms of the structure and the use of wooden doors and big locks, is a distinct feature of the area."

According to him, this souq still has some old shops, which are no longer commonly seen in other parts of the country because they have been replaced by modern developments.

"One of the shops which I am certain may not be found easily now are the shops which repair old TV sets. You can find the large boxy TV sets lying in these shops for maintenance," he said.

Umm Mahmoud, an Egyptian who was entering her flat in the only tall structure in the area, said she still loves living in the area.

"I moved to Khor Fakkan 20 years ago after my marriage. My husband and I lived in this neighbourhood and saw the changes it has gone through as years passed. I still love this area and don't think of moving away because to me everything seems close. I buy my groceries from the grocery in the old souq, which is only walking distance. The mosque is very close by for my husband. We often go walking on the corniche which is a road away from here. I do miss what was once the busy nature of this area, but I have got used to the quietness," she said giggling.

Building lives

Mohiuddin, a grocer at Kirla Supermarket, said he witnessed the massive changes the Al Sharq area has gone through.

"I arrived here from Bombay [Mumbai] in 1971 and since then has been working in various shops in this souq. The shops were small boxy shops owned by Emiratis. I started working in this supermarket in 1978. This area was a mountainous area which overlooked the sea. There were no roads and the only vehicle which would move here was the old Land Rover," he recalled.

Another shopkeeper, Azad, working at Al Rayan shop, which sold everything from handbags, watches, perfumes, clothes and other things, said, although he has been working in this shop for three years, it [the shop] has been there for 32 years and has evolved with time.

"Of course, now the business is not as strong as it used to be, as my other colleagues who have been working in this shop tell me, but we still get elderly Emiratis who especially come looking for old style stuff," he said.

Al Sharq area now may not be as busy or as appealing as it used to be, but a visit there is sure to shed light on its rich history and culture. The area is filled with stories of how its inhabitants lived simply, yet comfortably despite their struggles.


1 Salem Al Mutawa Mosque
The structure adorns the back of the the Dh5 note. The mosque still maintains the traditional style in which it was built and is a must-see if one is visited Al Sharq.

2 Al Sharq old souq
It houses several stores ranging from a supermarket, shops selling miscellaneous goods and shops repairing old TV sets. Even today when the shops close, the large wooden doors are locked with big metal locks.

3 Al Sharq Fort
It stands magnificently atop a a mountain. A visit to this imposing structure will reveal the rich history of the Al Sharq area.

Al Sharq area is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Khor Fakkan city. It overlooks Khor Fakkan Corniche. More than 30 years ago, it was the hustling bustling neighbourhood in the city, as traders, arriving at Khor Fakkan Port, used to flock to its shops, which sold everything from fabric to groceries to food.