As Qatar celebrates Eid Al Fitr, we travel back in time to get a glimpse of how people in the Gulf state used to mark the Muslim holiday in previous decades.
It is Eid Al Fitr once again and you may now be hearing the popular Qatari hit ‘Yal Aydo’ playing on repeat all over Qatar’s local television channels, a song used by broadcasters for decades to mark the festive occasion.
The long-anticipated celebrations have developed throughout the years as changes in children’s interests and the introduction of new places in the country unravel, including shopping malls and restaurants.
While some traditions remain, such as family visits and giving money [Eidiya] to children, others have slightly changed.
Doha News takes a look at snippets from the past, which offer a look into simpler times where Eid celebrations were a little different to what we’re used to now.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Eid celebrations were a lot more simple and uninterrupted by the fear of a global health crisis.
Typically on the morning of Eid, hours after the crack of dawn, Muslims would go to their nearest mosques to perform the Eid prayers in large outdoor gatherings.
At the time, there was a popular Eid prayer hall at Al-Jasra where worshippers gathered in the morning to observe the first step to mark the occasion. Here, worshippers repeat the “takbeer” [glorification of Allah] chant on their way to the site.
Once the sermon is done, Muslims turned to one another, shook hands and congratulated each other on the occasion of Eid. Qatari men dressed in their bishts [traditional cloak] and their newest white thobes. Children also came all dressed up in their Eid outfits.
Traditionally, Eid prayers are held in open areas to enable as many people to gather as possible.
Apart from hours-long family gatherings, Qatari men of different tribal groups would unite to perform the traditional sword dance [known as “Al Arda”] and the sounds of their cultural chants would be heard in every neighbourhood.
Some even watched the Al Arda from afar.
Men also sat down for Eid lunch, where they ate what was known as “dbeeha”, a dish consisting of rice and sheep meat that would be freshly sacrificed for the holiday.
Eid was an ideal holiday for children who would await in excitement to gather with their friends and play traditional games, such as “teela” [marble balls].
However, the celebrations were not just limited to children. Older age groups would also take part in the festivities by donning new, fresh outfits purchased just for Eid day.
Girls also wore colourful dresses that were embroidered with gold threads and unique patterns.
Street food vendors were popular at the time and children would be excited to buy goods from sellers using their newly-collected Eid money.
Grocery stores also spent the year anticipating crowds of children who wanted to spend all their money on sweets and snacks.
Stores were scattered on almost every corner of each neighbourhood, long before hypermarkets were introduced to the country.
A key establishment in the 80’s was the Doha Zoo, the first to open in Qatar, located in Al Aziziya. The zoo housed over 1500 animals from around the world.
After a long day of family visits, souqs in Qatar light up during the night to make way for cars and excited shoppers. A hotspot was the Asiri and Faleh market, which still stands across the road from Souq Waqif.
The 90’s and 2000’s were the years where entertainment during Eid witnessed a slight shift, with more destinations introduced to families and children.
Among the key establishments was Doha Toys town, best known as “Sana Games” the country’s first ever indoors amusement park, established by Palestinian businessman Samir Deeb Issa.
While it was founded in 1984, the centre gained popularity as it introduced more games for children over the years, including its iconic wacky worm.
One of the most rewarding moments was finally being able to spend the tickets collected throughout the day. From the rotating fishing toy to small stamps, the gifts children gained at the time were more meaningful.
Staycations were also fairly new in the 90’s. For only QR 900, families were able to spend three nights at the Sheraton Hotel as part of Eid promotions.
Game shows were also broadcasted on Qatar Television in the 90’s. One of the most prominent shows at the time was “Al Yawm Al Maftooh” [The Open Day], hosted by Kuwaiti actress Sahar Hussein in 1996.
Another key establishment was the famous amusement park “Aladdin Kingdom” [Mamlakat Aladdin], a place that was inaugurated in 1994. The theme park was located where Katara Cultural Village now stands.
Aladdin Kingdom then suddenly shut down in 2009 leaving behind memories that only those who grew up in Qatar at the time remember.
Roughly between the mid 90’s and early 2000’s, Qatar’s Palm Island emerged in the middle of the Corniche, across from the Sheraton Hotel.
Families used to hop on a dhow boat that would transfer them from the corniche’s parking to the man-made island to spend their Eid at its resort.
Children had access to water games, discovered Qatar’s beach, tasted a variety of cuisines and experienced horse riding.
Unfortunately it was shut down for reasons that were not disclosed to the public, but there are now plans to revive it. Many people who grew up in Doha has since welcomed the news with great joy and excitement.
As malls became more popular, children enjoyed an ice skating experience at City Center’s Winter Wonderland, which has now temporarily shifted into a golf course.
From 2010 up until now, there have been major changes to entertainment for children, with some preferring to sit with their friends while gazing at an electronic device of some sort, ditching Barbie dolls for the latest toys, or going out to malls and playing more advanced games at indoors amusement parks.
Despite the changes, the core decades-old traditions of Eid remain until this day: Eid prayers in at the crack of dawn, breakfast with family and dressing up and spending the entire day with loved ones.
As we mark this year’s Eid amid a global health crisis, we may see even more changes to how we celebrate, but this doesn’t mean it will be any less exciting, cosy and full of love.
What was your earliest Eid memory in Qatar?