The Grand Mosque, that is. Its official name is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. We were invited to a reception recently in the nearby UAE capital city of Abu Dhabi, and that’s where the Grand Mosque is located. It’d been on my “must do” list since I read about it, and this was an excellent opportunity to visit.
Muslim mosques are not generally open to the public, there are only two in the area available to visitors, this one and the Grand Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai. Tours are at no cost, but only available at certain times and days, I was thrilled that this time would work out for us to visit.
Upon entering, there are signs describing appropriate clothing. There are people that will let you know if your attire is not appropriate, and will either direct you to the exit or to borrow appropriate clothing.
My clothing was modest and passed the inspection, and my pashmina shawl was perfectly acceptable as a shayla (headscarf), but I feared with the wind that it would blow it away, and that would have been disrespectful, so I opted for a loaner abaya (traditional black robe) which provided the appropriate coverage without worry of the wind rearranging it.
We noticed a man in a white kandura close to the entrance and there was a large group of people forming around him. I assumed that he was one of the tour guides, and he was – you just find a group and join in. He started telling us about the outer areas of the Grand Mosque, the walkways, the spires and minarets and domes, the columns, floors, it’s all pretty elaborate. And the floors of the exterior area are made of white marble which helps keep them cool in the summer’s scorching heat.
It was not until a month or so later that I discovered that the gent who was our guide was actually a local celebrity, Ali Al Saloom, aka “Ask Ali”. This gent provides a local outlook on Arabic heritage, culture, customs and the history of the United Arab Emirates. He’s not only informative, but manages to pass on a ton of information in a short period of time, and intersperses the delivery with humor. A winning combination! He also writes a regular feature column in the local newspaper, The National. We were very fortunate to land in his tour group.
The columns are inlaid with semi-precious stones, and they are so well-made that you can barely feel seams where the materials join together. And there are over a thousand of them!
Inside the minarets, there are scriptures inscribed from the Holy Quran, each in a different calligraphy style. Some styles are so very elaborate that they’re an art form on their own, and extremely difficult to read.
The floors in the courtyard area are all inlaid white marble. White because it reflects the sun and stays cooler to walk (or kneel) on. But look at the elaborate inset bits that are formed into amazing flowers! And look at the sheer SIZE of the courtyard area! It houses worshippers in the event that the prayer room or reception room is full….
Then, just before you go through these arched doorways with their beautiful glass-work, you’ll remove your shoes, and place them in the shelves provided. Everyone that enters the mosque must remove their shoes.
Inside, there’s a large reception area, with one of the most lovely chandeliers I’ve ever seen. They’re actually gilded in 24 karat gold!
The entire room was bright and felt welcoming. The vining flowers on the walls are a work in relief, and they’re pretty amazing. Everywhere I went, I was so impressed by the amount of work and planning (10 years!) that went into this facility, and couldn’t stop touching the work that had been done. The hall off to the right side was generally used for the women’s prayers. They separate men and women here during prayer times because the Holy Quran bids worshippers to pray “shoulder to shoulder and feet to feet” – this connection confirms their solidarity as well as causes them to focus more on their prayers. If women and men prayed together, it would be seen as a distraction. This information came from our guide. Interesting.
A short walk further and we were in the main worship room of this mosque, and please understand when I say that it was truly *magnificent* – that is such a small word to describe this space! Ornate beyond belief, quiet, with a feeling of reverence enveloping us as soon as we all walked, barefoot, inside. And the only photo I snapped of TBG and I inside…. sorry it’s so blurry!
There is the most amazing carpet in the main prayer room – it is the largest single hand-knotted carpet in the world. Look at how vivid the colors are!
It took a group of over 1300 Iranian craftspersons to make it, and it was brought in pieces to the mosque and re-assembled. This wool and cotton carpet has lines shaved into it, you can see them here….
The purpose of these lines is to help “line up” up the worshippers. You see, this mosque can accommodate over 40,000 worshippers at once, and having them line up provides the highest number to be inside at once.
The ceilings, the chandeliers, they’re all so incredible – photos simply don’t do them justice once you’ve actually seen them in person. The colors, the shimmer, the amazing effort put into the design and construction was simply breathtaking. Here are some additional photos of the inside of the mosque……
Our visit managed to overlap both late afternoon and early evening lighting here – it was a truly spectacular view.
As we left, there was another, less-obvious entrance we passed. And, as we approached a police car came out, followed by a large SUV with dark windows, and four dark sedans following it at a high rate of speed….. and the SUV had no number on its plate, simply a crown!
We are assuming that we saw a royal motorcade. Pretty cool cap to our amazing visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.