Simplicity and Camaraderie Mark Street Iftars in Oman

Gaining momentum over the past one decade in Oman, public iftars in open spaces during the holy month of Ramadan are marked by their simplicity, camaraderie and huge participation. A most rewarding deed for organisers, such gatherings also stand out for the modesty and altruism displayed by participants.

It’s a time for fasting, a time for introspection, a time for prayers and a time for showing benevolence. And as the sun goes down after a long day of fasting, what could be more soothing to a tired body and a pious mind than to break the fast in an atmosphere of true brotherhood and love? You could be with your family at home, at a relative’s or friend’s house, at the workplace with your colleagues, for a splendid iftar feast in a hotel or restaurant, or on the road with total strangers. But there are no strangers, nowhere, not during Ramadan. Come…have these dates, drink this water, try these fruits and have a meal.

You see large mats spread on the pavement and whatever little spaces available between the buildings and parking lots. Many are already seated and more are pouring in. Just minutes for the Maghrib, volunteers are busy bringing trays of food, bottles of water and juices from across the street. You find a seat and there are men seated beside or opposite, some you have not seen before or never met, to share the food from the large tray. And suddenly you realise: This is all about sharing, not just with your family or friends, but with people, the mankind.

Public iftars in open spaces could be a relatively new concept in Oman. But they gained momentum over the past one decade and are now the embodiment of the true spirit of Ramadan. It could be a very rewarding deed for the organisers and sponsors, but what cannot go unnoticed is the simplicity, humility or kindness shown by the participants, the most humble way they share food with their brothers.

In the country, there’s no dearth for iftars as the mosques provide healthy and hygienic food for the believers to break the fast. The mass iftar on all 30 days of Ramadan sponsored by Bahwan group at Wadi Kabir Mosque for the last 16 years enjoys a big participation of around 4000 people daily, probably the largest in the country and they have similar iftars across Oman. Besides, private iftars by organisations and companies too enjoy big participation. But a few public iftars, especially the one at Muttrah, a coastal town in Muscat, have earned fame over the years and all those behind want them held uninterrupted for the years to come.

A humble beginning
It started 15 years back when two people spread a mat on the roadside and broke the fast in one of the Ramadan days. More peopled joined them in the following days.

The wholesale merchants and workers in Muttrah, a majority of them are Malayalee expatriates, decided to organise a public iftar on all the 30 days of Ramadan, one person sponsoring the food each day. There was no committee to supervise this, but just a commune of merchants and workers. Around 200 to 300 people attended the iftar during the initial years, and number of participants rose to 800 to 1000 in the following years.

The iftar is meant for not just the residents, workers or businessmen in the locality but also for all commuters, the customers who come to the Muttrah souq for their Ramadan shopping. Separate space is provided for families, though some of them break their fast sitting inside the car.

For the merchants and workers in Muttrah, the work for iftar starts everyday at 2 pm. Nowadays, they have to prepare at least 255 trays of fruits and biriyani, each meant to be shared among four people besides arranging for sufficient bottles of water, watermilk and juices. They have a good stock of mats and other necessary supplies which would be needed in any case of increased attendance.

What makes the community event a success is people’s disciplined approach. “Conducting this continuously for 30 days could be a huge challenge, especially on windy days or under extreme weather conditions, but we are very happy to do this. And we have the support of the Muscat municipality. Most importantly, it’s convenient to the workers as they don’t have to rush to their houses or hotels to break the fast. With people from various nationalities including Arabs and Asians coming in, it’s a very good atmosphere,” says a volunteer.

Apart from the workers who take great effort to run it smoothly, there are several Omanis who sponsor food and bring it after preparing at home.