ISTABSIR is a photo column that runs weekly in The National. The title is derived from an Arabic verb which means to attentively reflect on and contemplate with respectful consideration. Unlike most photo columns The National runs a photo essay per column. Each Sunday, the series receives an entire page (w/o ads) in the news section of our publication.
FAITH AND THE FISH
IMAGES & TEXT BY: RICH-JOSEPH FACUN
At this moment just before the sun rises and midnight black turns morning blue, sandaled men shuffle among haggling fishermen, lobbying to sell their catch at the Deira Fish Market.
A metal blade taps out an eerie rhythm, carving flesh and bones into marketable mounds of meat.
In one recent catch, there are barely signs of movement nor a struggle for life and no sense of a finite end – just a calm pattern of contracting gills. Creatures so fresh from the ocean, they continue exhaling and inhaling oxygen even after it has stopped supporting life.
Through the ages, fish has fed man on multiple levels – not just his stomach but also his spirit. The fish has religious significance in Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian traditions. In the Orient, where fish are often depicted in the form of a carp, they are regarded as sacred due to their grace, size, and lifespan.
Christians have used the ichthys to identify themselves and the Bengalis regarded the fish as a symbol of fertility. The golden fish of Buddhism represents the state of fearless suspension in samsara – meaning the birth, death, and rebirth of one’s life cycle.
In Deira, the symbols associated with fish are on the scales that weight them and the dirhams that buy them.
Across the Emirates, fish continue to provide both nourishment and financial prosperity, remaining a source of life for generations.