Once a year, throughout the holy month of Ramadan, the Arabian Gulf Region witnesses the emergence of thousands of Ramadan tents ; from private residential tents meant for the entertainment of family members and friends, to lavish ones mounted on hotel grounds that require access fees that can reach up to a whooping US$ 1000, you simply can’t miss the white structures.
Ramadan tents are venues set up for the month and were traditionally meant to provide a community space for people to meet to break their fast together and socialize.
The tents have evolved to become one of Ramadan’s main icons, offering everything from iftar (breaking the fast) meals, to suhoor (the last meal to have before the fast commences), as well as entertainment, shishas, big screen televisions, and board games.
Lavish tents, especially those on hotel properties, offer entertainment such as singers, dancers, and music, which are controversial to some people given the religious spirituality of the month.
This doesn’t end in Arabia, though. Tents have also sprung up across the United Kingdom and the United States, wherever Muslim communities are present.
How and where the idea of the Ramadan tent came about is still vague. Several sources indicate that the first Ramadan tent was erected in Egypt when a group of wealthy men wanted a place to socialize after they broke their fast.
It was then that the club that they were members of, the Al Jazeera Club, set up a Ramadan tent for them and the rest of the club’s members. The concept spread across the country, the remainder of North Africa, and eventually made its way to the Arabian Peninsula.
Ramadan tents were also set up in neighborhoods as a space where neighbors could donate food to the homeless and poor. The concept still runs today. Many charity organisations set up free iftar tents across towns in Arabia. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi hosts the largest iftar in the UAE, welcoming over 30,000 people everyday.
A lavish present
What was once a place for community members to socialize or to provide food for the less able, has become a profitable business model for corporates.
Many hotels have adopted the concept to make up for the lack of traffic to their food and beverage outlets throughout the month. Restaurants have jumped on the wagon as well, either turning the interior of their venue to resemble the inside of a tent, such as that done in the past by No. Fifty Seven Boutique Café in Abu Dhabi, UAE, or setting up a tent outdoors if they have the space.
Tents have also become a symbol of social status, and people compete to be seen at the right tent with society’s elites. In fact, some tents require advance bookings and open the reservation line a month in advance.
What’s next for Ramadan tents?
Ramadan tents continue to evolve, and don’t stop at providing just food and entertainment; they have also become networking spaces for niche markets. In 2017, Dubai’s Grand Hyatt Hotel hosted the country’s first women-only Ramadan tent, a place for women to meet, socialize, and network. It was fully serviced by a female staff as well. A similar arrangement is in place this year too.
What will we be seeing next? Perhaps a tent just for kids or one that is exclusive to men will be the upcoming trend?