Only two decades ago, the United Arab Emirates were an obscure place, which people knew very little or nothing about. Today Dubai, the country’s largest city, is pretty much a household name. But now Abu Dhabi, the capital of the Emirates, is also catching up and making a name for itself, even hosting Formula 1 Grand Prix races.
Formula 1 apart, the main attraction in Abu Dhabi is the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. From the private beach at Traders Hotel Qaryat Al Beri Abu Dhabi, where I stayed, I could already see one of the mosque’s minarets and couldn’t wait to make my way there. It’s impossible not to recognise it, even from far away.
ABOUT SHEIKH ZAYED GRAND MOSQUE
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was built following detailed directions by the Sheikh himself. He wanted a mosque that, as well as a place of worship, displayed the Emirati cultural heritage, the struggle of the people who survived the challenges of the desert and their achievements.
Everything at the Grand Mosque, which opened in 2007, is grand. All material used for construction, such as pure white marble and semi-precious stones, came directly from nature. When I visited the Grand Mosque, late in the afternoon, the orange colours of the sunset reflected on the white marble, creating a very interesting effect.
From the outside, the mosque’s main feature is the 82 onion-shaped domes in different sizes. The largest one is 33 metres in diameter. Inside, they are decorated with verses from the Quran.
No expense was spared in the interiors. At Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque you’ll find the world’s biggest Persian carpet. With almost 5200sqm, the carpet was made by hand by 1200 artisans and stitched together.
Besides de giant carpet, the mosque also has seven opulent grand chandeliers. At 12 tons, the largest of them is made of brass, steel, glass and Swarovski crystals.
The external area of the mosque is also grand, like everything here. Of course, there are no Swarovski crystals there. Instead, you’ll find around one thousand white marble columns that will remind you of palm trees. They are decorated with the colours of agate, lapis lazuli and amethyst.
The columns and arches are reflected in the many pools that surround the mosque. In a place where temperatures reach 55C, the pools not only represent the source of life, but also helps cool the place.
VISITING SHEIKH ZAYED GRAND MOSQUE IN ABU DHABI
Entry to the mosque is free and you can visit almost all areas, except wherever is cordoned off. In order to visit Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and, for that matter, any mosque in the world, you need to pay attention to a few rules.
The most important one is regarding the way you dress. You won’t be allowed anywhere in the mosque, even the patio, if you are showing your legs. That is valid both for male and female visitors. Women also have to wear a headscarf, which can be provided at the entrance and must cover their arms.
The mosque is open for visits from Saturday to Thursday. It is closed for non-Muslims on Fridays and on Islamic holidays.
Saturday: 9am to 5pm
Sunday to Wednesday: 9am to 6pm
Thursday: 9am to 4pm
WATCH YOUR POSE!
While taking photos at the mosque, inside or outside, remember that it is a religious place.
When singer Rihanna visited the Grand Mosque, she did a photo session in many sexy poses that shocked and disturbed Muslims all over the world.
As for myself, visiting the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, I was told to delete the pictures I took with my arms opened.
Discretion and a modest behaviour will be appreciated – even if you see some Muslim visitors not following it.
And you, what do you think about the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque? Have you ever been to the UAE?