Abu Dhabi: It’s 5pm and a steady stream of faithful is already filling up iftar tents at the Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque gardens.
In less than an hour and a half, more than 15,000 men have already taken seats for the biggest daily iftar gatherings in Abu Dhabi.
Eleven tents erected at the lower gardens of the landmark mosque that houses the mausoleum of late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s founding father and first president, was filled to capacity. Each tent accommodates approximately 1,500 people. There is a separate tent for women and children.
The Armed Forces Officers Club in Abu Dhabi prepares and delivers around 20,000 complete iftar meal packages to the mosque. A team of around 300 people help organise, dispatch and supervise meal distribution in the tents.
As the influx of believers continues, parking lots outside the mosque quickly transform into an iftar ground. A well-organised fleet of caterers moves about rolling plastic sheets on the ground, while thousands of food packets are lined up in neat rows in no time.
Volunteers from the UAE Red Crescent call on and direct people to take seats well before the canon goes off announcing the ending of the fast and Maghrib prayer.
Even as faithful from different nationalities wait patiently for the prayer call, some are already opening the packets and checking the contents.
As the canon goes off, the devotees end their fast with dates and a pack of juice.
“On Fridays, this place is packed, with no place to even drop a pin,” a Red Crescent Volunteer told XPRESS.
He said 20,000 to 25,000 iftar meals are served daily at the venue. In 2012, the mosque catered to around 700,000 people in the holy month.
Sulaiman Omar, a security guard from Uganda said he feels very comfortable ending fast at the Grand Mosque alongside thousands of believers.
“This is my third year in Abu Dhabi and I come here every Ramadan. It feels like home, though I am sitting with people I have never met before,” said Omar.
Anwar Mohammad Ali from India brought his five-year-old son along to the iftar. “My family is here. But I wanted to experience iftar at the Grand Mosque. It is really special to sit and end your fast in such a big group of fellow Muslims who come from all over the world,” said Ali.
Thousands of workers from labour camps in Mussafah also flock to the Grand Mosque daily. The free shuttle service to and from the mosque to their accommodation in the ICAD (Industrial City of Abu Dhabi) offers a hassle free commute for the workers.
“We come here every day to end fast. The food is really good,” said Mohammad Asif, a Pakistani worker.
Mohammad Tahir, another worker from Pakistan, said he and his friends take the food packets to their rooms.
“We like to eat in our rooms. I just have water and dates to end the fast. I keep the biryani and the rest of the stuff for dinner,” said Tahir.