Shaquel al Balushi heads to Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque to join a mass breaking of the fast.
Stretching out before me were lines of men, sitting cross-legged and patiently waiting for the Maghrib call out so they could end their day of fasting.
Laid out in front of them was a simple meal of laban and dates, along with a bottle of water, placed carefully by the group of volunteers wearing orange shirts.
Similar scenes were being repeated at mosques across Muscat and the whole of Oman, with free Iftars being laid on for those far from home or locals wanting to share the moment. Most of these have been funded by donations.
None would probably have quite the same spectacular backdrop as this one; with the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque behind them, the white marble still hot to the touch from the heat of the day’s sun.
I was filled with a strong feeeling of joy watching the men waiting for their food. From a photographic point of view, there was a sense of simplicity about it that drew me in. Personally, I was also seeing it through fresh eyes. I was here last year and at the time, I saw the man who was ushering the men into line as stern and rude, like an army major marshalling his troops into formation. I didn’t like his attitude and was quite upset by it.
This time, I saw it differently. I realised that if the man wasn’t organising the queue in such a way (I’m not sure if it was the same one as last year), they wouldn’t have enough time to sit everyone properly and not everyone would get to eat. Some of them would have to go without food. This man was making sure that everyone was disciplined and everyone got food and drink.
My perspective had changed. Maybe I had grown up since last year, or my religious concern was growing or perhaps it’s because I am now married. There are lots of factors changing me. It’s a learning process and every year we grow and garner more knowledge.
Being part of this Iftar gathering has affected me personally. As a Muslim, we believe that if you help someone to break his or her fast, whatever good that person may have done will come to you too. So it’s a blessing to come here and give to your Muslim brothers but the giving is from both sides.
There were many different nationalities represented at the Grand Mosque Iftar, differentiated by their clothing. I saw Omani dishdashas, mingling with Bengali Kummah and Indian workers in jeans and shirts. They were from all walks of life: labourers to normal Omani guys. I captured a nice shot of an expatriate worker, drawn in by his warm smile and happiness in his eyes. His face was glowing.
Others were taking photos and videos of the Iftar around them on their smartphones. One guy took a selfie of himself as I took a picture of him; I liked the juxtaposition of us: him taking a photo of me taking a photo of him.
There was a feeling of quiet peace among the men, who were all barefoot. Although they must have been hungry and thirsty, they waited respectively in line for their place on the mat for their Iftar. There was no sense of urgency.
The volunteers were darting around handing out food and plates. After the laban, dates and water, they served up mounds of piping hot mutton or chicken biryani, accompanied by dark Omani coffee.
One of my favourite photos shows the men sitting in lines waiting with a background of a prayer hall with an orange dome behind them.
Afterwards, they slipped away into the night or sat around talking. Some would wait for the 8.24pm call to Isha prayer, the last one before Fajr in the early hours of the morning.
I was genuinely moved by this photo shoot and seeing the men, so humble and grateful for their simple meal.
As I headed off, I contemplated how small gestures can make a small difference in the lives of those who are less fortunate than us. That, to me, is the true spirit of Ramadan.