I lost count of all the important personalities (the most recent was Queen Elizabeth) and intent whirlwind visitors who made Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque a must-see and experience in their UAE trip. Hence, when I finally saw it in person I cannot believe that it took me four years (yay! I’m soon celebrating another Abu-versary) to experience the charm and validate on my own the record-breaking details of THE mosque.
Thanks to my aunt who visited us in the overlapping momentous months of September and October last year. She made me list down the stuff which might interest her which paved way for discovery and re-discovery of UAE gems.
(The grand mosque features 80 domes, 1,096 columns in exterior and 96 columns in the main prayer hall which are embedded with more than 20,000 handmade marble panels with semi-precious stones.)
The third largest mosque in the world. We visited the grand mosque in October of last year. There were plenty of visitors that weekend, however, we didn’t feel the need to queue or be negated by the thought of influx. Well, the grand mosque is hugeeeeee! Imagine that its size (more than 20,000 square metres) is equal to five (5) football fields. To sum up the capacity in terms of total number of worshippers, it can accommodate 40,960 people. Let me clarify though that the sum is based on the capacity of the entire mosque. The nerd in me wanted to create a pie chart to better illustrate how many worshippers it can house in the different prayer halls and court yard.
(L) My aunt covered by the traditional UAE dress* (abaya); We were teasing her that she’s got a teen spirit look here even if she’s already a senior citizen. I think that the grandeur of the open prayer hall and the wind contributed to the look. (R) Visitors are required to remove the footwear before entering the main hall.
*Dress and behaviour code. We were required to wear the sheila (headscarf) and abaya (black robe) to cover the hair and body, respectively. On certain occasions, I had chances to try the UAE traditional dress but I always deferred it under the assumption that there’s always a next time. I’m more content being the one photographing the wearers. Finally, I tried it for the first time. It was an interesting experience especially that at times I visualized that one’s on me when I’m with my UAE Nationals-colleagues.
Putting the sheila on my top and denim was easy but I didn’t realize that covering the hair was tricky. Mine slipped several times and I had to do it over and again because the guards are keen on picking the violators, e.g. ladies with ‘hair sightings’ and not to mention the unacceptable behaviors like holding hands, eating, drinking. Anyway, I seemed pleased to a certain extent when I saw myself with the abaya on because it hid my bulges heehee. On the other hand, men are not required to wear the khoundura (white robe) unless they came in shorts and without sleeves. The kids may enter the mosque as they are but in some cases, little girls might be required to wear the sheila to cover the hair. All these elements — unused and neatly folded will be provided as you approach the open prayer hall but you must return it afterwards.
As a sign of respect, the footwear must be removed before entering the main prayer hall. It is the same protocol we followed when we visited the Sri Marriaman (Hindu) temple in Singapore.
The mosque’s name. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was named after the father/founder and first president of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (“bin Sultan” means “son of Sultan”). He was buried in the mausoleum (a private building inside the mosque compound) which cannot be photographed. Amongst the many good things he did, it was his idea that the mosque be opened to all nationalities and religions in order to educate people about Islam and its art and history, and the Muslim culture.
(The exterior walls are said to be of traditional Turkish design. The nature-inspired design throughout the mosque reflects late Sheikh Zayed’s love for the environment. Personally, I appreciated the overall cheerful yet solemn effect of the combination of materials. Of course, the precious-looking chandelier in the main prayer hall entrance is impossible to miss.)
A decade of conceptualization. After ensuring that we were decent enough to enter the main prayer hall, we requested a wheelchair for my aunt to make it more convenient for her. I must warn you that the feeling of being regaled is comparable to a “Pringle moment” (once you popped, you can’t stop), we hardly stopped being wooooowed by every detail; no wonder that it took a decade (started in late 1980s) to conceptualize its architectural design. The construction phase itself and the end result are regarded as an effort to unify the best concepts globally. It has been reported that the artisans and materials came from Italy, Germany, Morocco, India, Turkey, Iran, China, Greece and the UAE. The mosque was inaugurated in Ramadan of 2007.
The crystals and other record-breaking blings. We thought that the bluish and whitish chandelier we saw earlier was more than a breath-taker but the seven (7) gold-coloured chandeliers inside the main prayer hall were more stunning. As reported, those were imported from Germany, have thousands of Swarovski crystals from Austria and some glass work from Italy. Reported cost? US$8.2 million.
World’s largest chandelier. In above photo you can see that under the main dome, the 10 metres in diameter, 15 metres in height and over 9 tonnes in weight chandelier hangs. That’s a mammoth weight! I hope that the mosque is ultra-earthquake proof. Rumor has it that its “sparkle ability” is powered by 40 million pieces of Swarovski crystals.
While I’m not a big fan of crystals, golds and jewelries (except for watches), my eyes sparkled in appreciation. Heehee. Do you also wonder how they do the maintenance of this? Based on unofficial local conversations, there is a built-in staircase within the chandelier itself for maintenance purposes!
The Qibla wall. Being a non-Muslim, I was most curious about the counterpart of the altar and pulpit of the priest’s (Imam in Islam) stand. I absolutely liked the idea that while its components cost a fortune, it was made to look unassuming and simple so as not to distract worshippers from prayers. The niche in the middle is called “Mehrab” which is made of gold-class mosaic. Please take note of the embossed portions as they provide details of the 99 names (qualities) of Allah in traditional Kufi calligraphy. Just a polite note to the visitors not to touch the Holy Quran (Holy Book) and other architectural elements in the main prayer hall.
The prayer clock (Adhan). This clock is interesting because it shows the schedule of call to prayer as of a certain day. Muslims are prescribed to pray five (5) times a day.
The world’s largest hand-knotted carpet. My aunt did not fully utilize the wheelchair inside the main prayer hall as the carpet is more inviting. Before researching on this subject, it was best to assume that the best carpets are Iranian produced. It didn’t surprise me that an Iranian artist designed the carpet. The best part of the trivia is that the carpet was handcrafted by 1,200 artisans in small villages near Mashhadin, a region in Iran popular for its carpet making expertise. To add, they were flown to Abu Dhabi to stitch the carpet pieces together for the final fitting. Consisting of 2,268,000 knots, the mosque’s carpet is estimated at US$8.2 million.
The inflaid floral designs reminded me of the movie Tangled. There are 96 columns in the main prayer hall which are round in shape. Aside from the floral designs, the Italian white marble adorn the prayer halls. Take note of the ceiling also.
There are reflective pools as well, however I missed a snapshot (that’s why I’m looking forward to my next visit, probably to coincide it with sunset and stay until night). I have seen photos online that the pool itself captures the spectacular image of the mosque.
Taking photos and videos, sketching/drawing inside the mosque. Whether you’re a photo enthusiast or not, you will absolutely enjoy capturing the grand mosque because it is really beautiful, each corner can probably tell a story, capture an indescribable moment and for other reasons. Photo and video taking are allowed for personal consumption. However, I would like to reiterate that the mausoleum is off-limits as a sign of respect to late Sheikh Zayed as his remains are there. For professional film makers and media establishments, prior permission can be requested by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. On the other hand, feel free to draw or sketch inside the mosque but avoid using chalks and charcoals.
While I wrote about the don’ts of taking photos in the UAE, I would like to remind everyone, especially the tourists, not to take photos of the UAE Nationals without permission whether you’re inside or outside the grand mosque. In case you would like to take photos of the worshippers praying at the time of your visit, I suggest that you first consult the security officers inside the mosque to avoid complications.
Good news! Entry is free of charge.
Another good news: there are free guided tours in Arabic and English. Click here for the schedule.