Dubai - Rarely does one come across a Muslim complaining about observing Ramadan. You’d think perhaps those who have it the roughest — construction workers out in the July sun of Dubai from 6am to 12noon (Ramadan timings) laying bricks or the equivalent, without a sip of water — would concede parched throats and dull headaches.
But at the construction site of the new mosque coming up in Dubai Marina, this is not the case. At 11.30am, two dozen workers — Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis — some still in their red uniform, some back in their shalwar/kurta, wait in the shade created by shadows of the newly-constructed mosque walls for their buses to ferry them back to their rooms. In one white mini bus, with the engine running, a bearded gentleman is postured in prayer. None of the men say Ramadan is a challenge. Part of our life, part of who we are, they say. Some smile. They start work at 6 in the morning and end at 12noon. This is their Ramadan timing.
Mahir Ali (extreme left) with some of the workers.
The mosque, coming up in Marina is a white structure. In the last fortnight, pace has picked up. One minaret is in place. And at least 16 domes — big and small — on the façade are now painted gold. In the last fortnight, pace has picked up. The domes of the mosque are now painted gold.
At 12 noon, work for the day is drawing to a close.
Mahir Ali, the security guard with an untucked blue shirt (who’s been working at the site since 2012, and is from Swat in Pakistan) is reluctant to let a newspaper reporter on to the premises of the mosque he guards. He might have people to answer to. But for now he yields. Mahir Ali, like every year, is keeping rozas. He says, it’s fine, it’s all good. There’s no real difference work wise during Ramadan, except that people are less strict, “sakhat nahi hai log yahan”. The guard who will come to relieve Ali at 12.30pm has a much more strenuous shift — till 6am the next day. Does Ali see this as unfair? He grins. Company policy, what’s he to do.
The hardships, if any, of Ramadan seem to be a no-go topic. Heads are shaken, shoulders shrugged. So you ask about life in general, life at the construction site, the nationalities of people, the number of workers, and about whether everyone gets along well, there are replies.
Yes, Hindus and Muslims work together. Yes, it’s all fine. We work like brothers, these are our friends, and we look after each other, says a Sikh worker, Amrit Singh from Hoshiarpur, only his eighth month in the city. Yahan bhaid bhaav nahi hai, another says in Hindi. There is none of that discrimination, ask anyone. Ask the ones keeping fasts. And the ones keeping fasts, smile and nod: Yes, we agree.
Collectively, they seem proud to be working on a mosque — and that much they don’t shy to express. One of them says it will be a beautiful structure when complete. One says the structure is complete, it’s only the interiors left. The labour in charge, Lalu Yadav from Bihar says there’s not more than six months’ work left on the masjid. He’s been here eight years. He says he’s seen the city change, not just during Ramadan. He remembers when the afternoon break used to be an hour, which then became two hours, and is now a mandatory three hours rest in the middle of the day. There are things to be grateful for.
He seems willing to talk without hesitation. A small crowd has meanwhile gathered. There’s a curiosity at work. They want to know why some woman, with her few English words, would walk into the construction area, what does she want, what is her religion, nationality, purpose (“aap Pakistani hain? Hindu ya Musalman?”) , and why is she asking all these questions about how Ramadan is turning out for them.
Having asked all the fast-observing Muslim workers on site building the mosque, what the most challenging part of fasting is, replies are somewhat homogenous. You elicit smiles, negations, expressions that smack of fortitude, forbearance, (and denial? you wonder). ‘koi masla nahi hai’ — there’s no problem, or ‘mushkil nahi hai’ – it’s not difficult, and a sound byte or two about faith pulling everyone through. Nobody will say, ‘yes, I am tired, I am done for the day. I need some rest, because this is not easy’. Having to go without food and water all day till Iftar, and put in hard labour for even six hours in the sun is not easy.