Arts & Culture

In photos: Eid away from home

Whilst walking in Old Dubai, I found out what it means to be celebrating Eid in Dubai for the South Asian residents, in their home away from home.


By Iman Tahir

Tomorrow is Eid Al Fitr, the Islamic celebration that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims rejoice with a three-day holiday. It is usually a festive occasion that families celebrate together, meeting and greeting others and rejoicing in traditional festivities. Eid is always a joyous and a blessed occasion, and so I was curious to find out from some of the residents of the city about how they would be celebrating Eid this year.

I went on a photo walk in Old Dubai – Bur Dubai and Deira – which is a home to many expats, to ask some of the residents about their Eid plans. Whilst it seemed like a regular day in the heart of Old Dubai, with the bustling city relatively peaceful during fasting hours, I was pleased to be warmly greeted by the shopkeepers and stall owners of the Gold Souk and the Spice Souk, as they talked to me about their hopes for Eid.

The heart of old Dubai is soulful and enchanting. From bustling streets, to small vendors filled with antiquities, souvenirs, spices and gold, the souks in Deira paint a rich and  vivid display of culture. The Gold Souk in Deira is home to most of the 600 jewellery shops that are in the city, hence its title “City of Gold.” The Spice Souk is another famous souk, which has been around since the 1830s. 

Old Dubai is also home to some of the oldest and the most beautiful mosques. Minarets decorate the sky with their bold and traditional architecture, whilst pigeons flock in the vicinity. One of these well-known and historical mosques is the Iranian Hosainia Mosque, which is a Shia mosque for the Iranian community. With its Persian architecture, its intricately detailed blue tiles, geometric architecture and striking blue dome, it is a gem in the city of Dubai.

Eid this year won’t be the same as the previous years. Government restrictions and regulations that have been put in place have led many to make adjustments to their plans. With flights already suspended, or soon suspending, between the UAE and South Asian countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, many residents have had to adjust their celebration plans and compromise on an Eid without family back home. 

Ibrahim sits on the steps of a mosque after prayers. Images: Courtesy of Iman Tahir. Click on each to enlarge it.

I met Ibrahim, who was sitting quietly at the steps of the mosque after finishing his prayers. Ibrahim is from India and has spent almost two years in Dubai. He was grateful about how Ramadan has been going for him in Dubai, but had reservations as to how he would celebrate Eid this year.

“[For my Eid] I will just sit here after prayers; we can’t do anything, and we can’t go anywhere. All my family is in India. Of course, it is best to spend Eid with family, but the flights are closed and I can’t go to see my family,” he told me.

With COVID-19 casualty figures rising in India, what was once normal now feels like a distant memory. It seemed tragic to think of what used to be such a happy occasion feel like any other day for some.

With a solemn hope, others seemed slightly saddened about how they would have to celebrate Eid this year. “Eid without family is tough, but it will pass by, we will have to pass it by,” said Muhammed Umar, a Pakistani shopkeeper at the Spice Souk. “Ramadan went well – it wasn’t that difficult. The customers were also less, and our duties were easy to manage,” he added.

Osama was outside his stall in Al Bastakiya, which was colourfully decorated with shawls and ornaments, souvenirs and gifts for tourists. “Insha Allah, I will celebrate Eid Al Adha with my family,” he said, referring to the second Eid of the year, which will be celebrated by Muslims in July. 

Osama stands in front of his stall at Al Bastakiya. Image: Courtesy of Iman Tahir. Click on each to enlarge it.

Some residents were more optimistic, and were looking forward to meeting friends on Eid. I spoke to Ali, a Pakistani driver, who has lived in Dubai for seven years. “Ramadan was good, the weather is very hot, but the people of Dubai are very nice. So it was a very nice Ramadan,” he told me.

“I hope to celebrate Eid with friends. Especially in Dubai, friends are like family.” He added, “we miss our family, but with friends, it’s very good and [there is] no problem, Insha Allah.”

Ali from Pakistan talks about the positives of spending Eid with friends. Images: Courtesy of Iman Tahir.

Walking in the crowded alleyways of the spice souks and the gold souk, it was a busy day and life seemed to continue in our new normal, with shopkeepers trying to sell their produce, and with people going about their own business. It was a quieter afternoon, with less people than usual. In the afternoon sun, the Abra boat rides were floating gently by the creek’s harbor.

Muhammad Yaqub sits in his shop by the Creek. Images: Courtesy of Iman Tahir. Click on each to enlarge it.

As the sun was beginning to set, and the time for iftar was coming near, I walked over to a shopkeeper who was sitting in his shop, quietly looking at his phone. “Insha Allah I will celebrate Eid with my friends, [as] my family is in Afghanistan,” said Muhammed Yaqub, who has been living in Dubai for 12 years. “I am here, and (my wife) is there. Insha Allah next Eid, I will celebrate with my family in Afghanistan.” 

Undoubtedly, there is a feeling of hope for the best. The people I spoke to seemed to be melancholic about their Eid celebrations away from home. But there are glimmers of hope that Eid next year will be better, and that they will once again get a chance to rejoice with their families again. 

Iman Tahir is a freelance journalist and an intern at Sekka Magazine. Her interests include art and culture, society and environment in Dubai.

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.