Dubai: The first Friday of this Ramadan a special iftar was held far away from Dubai’s luxury hotels and their grand buffets.
Several kilometres deep inside the Al Ajban desert area between Dubai’s Jebel Ali and Abu Dhabi’s Shahama, the animal farms, where shepherds raise hundreds of camels and sheep, received a group of families and bachelors.
The group led by Indian expat Fazil Musthafa was not driving down to enjoy dune bashing on a weekend holiday. The four 4-wheel drive cars in which they reached the “uzbah,” (animal pen) were full of food items meant for iftar along with other grocery items.
Stopping by each uzbah, they collected items from different vehicles and put them into individual packages for distributing among the shepherds.
When it was time for iftar, the group, including women and children, sat together with the shepherds to end their fast — under the beautiful sky in the middle of the desert.
After iftar, they continued to the remaining uzbahs located further ahead distributing food and other items among more than 60 usbas.
This is something Fazil and his friends have been doing for the past four years now. And it’s not just during Ramadan. The sales executive hailing from the southern Indian state of Kerala has been visiting the shepherds living with camels and sheep — in ones, twos, threes and maximum fours — every month.
It was in continuation to his mission of serving homemade iftar meals to workers in labour accommodations that Fazil set off to the desert in search of the people living in isolated conditions.
In 2015, he started taking his children to share iftar prepared by his wife Shajina with workers in labour accommodations. Inspired by his Facebook post showing photos of their experience, many people joined him with their children.
“I wanted to let the children know the valuable message that the abundance that God has blessed us with is something we need to share with disadvantaged people like them. They will realise the value of it only when they go and do it by themselves,” Fazil told Gulf News.
He said it was after he read the Malayalam novel Aadu Jeevitham (Goat Days) which depicted the life of a worker herding goats in a desert farm in another Gulf country that he set off looking for shepherds in deserts here.
“Their friends and family members are the camels and the goats they take care of. I have seen one man who has given the names of his own friends and family members to his camels. It was very touching to see him living as if his family is living with him.”
Fazil’s iftar distribution at labour accommodation has garnered wider participation from community members. Some of them continue to support him throughout the year to distribute grocery, toiletries, blankets, caps, buckets, mats, etc to the shepherds in the desert.
“When they buy grocery for their families, they buy extra. I don’t have a 4-wheel drive car. It is my friend Jamshi (Jamshed. P.K) who takes me in his car to the desert every month.”
C.K. Mohammad, an Indian shepherd who has been living in the UAE for 14 years, said the arrival of Fazil’s group is something that the shepherds in the area always look forward to.
“We get visitors like them very rarely. We don’t leave the uzbah unless there is an emergency. We have to spend around Dh50 to go to the nearest town in Shahama. When people like Fazil and friends visit us, we feel very happy.”
He said volunteers of the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre and another Indian expat named Ali also distribute iftars to the shepherds.
“Fazil and friends come every month. If there is any delay in his visit, the shepherds from other countries ask me about him because we both are from Kerala. Our prayers and blessings are always with them,” he said.