Monday, 1 November 2010

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

A visit to the Grand Mosque provides an opportunity to discover some of Islam with my own eyes and answer some of my questions.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is the eighth largest mosque in the world and named after the founder of the United Arab Emirates. It was opened to worshippers in 2007, however development continues in parts of the site and a completion date is still unknown.

A public tour commences daily at 10am. The tour is directed by local Emirati tour guides. All visitors are expected to obey Islamic standards in the mosque. As a result, no shoes are worn in the main prayer rooms and everyone should be dressed modestly. All women are expected to wear an abaya and cover their hair, whilst guys are given a snappy white dishdasha if they turn up in shorts and t-shirt.

The tour guide gives out lots of impressive facts about the mosque. Typically, they are very proud of the numerous world records the mosque boasts. The scale of the building is impressive. I'm always suprised that there are in fact seven larger mosques in the world - they must be something special. The thing I find most impressive about the architecture of the mosque is the sense of openness. Most mosques have few windows and do not allow non-Muslims. Here at the Grand Mosque, it is possible to walk through the mosque from one end of the site to the other. The only walls are found around the prayer rooms, whilst the rest of the most is built upon a series of columned walkways.
The are other little architectural touches which I enjoyed. There is a huge tiled prayer-courtyard in the centre of the mosque. The courtyard is under the constant glare of the sun and gets incredibly warm. This produces a problem because when Muslims pray they touch their nose to the ground. In order to prevent the worshippers burning themselves, special tiles have been created that do not absorb the suns heat, allowing worshippers to pray as they normally would.

The tour is great for several reasons. Firstly, admission is free which is not common in the UAE. Secondly, the tour guides are open to answer any questions and are aren't easily shocked or offended. Our tour ended with lots of questions about the abaya and the headscarf women wear. The tour guide was happy to explain why certain items of clothing are worn.

The final reason why the tour is so good I think is also the most important. The mosque is open to non-Muslims. Many mosques are closed to non-Muslims and as a result they are imposing on the local environment but offer no insight by way of windows or external activity. To me, mosques were small areas of the community where I wasn't allowed and didn't know what when on there. A visit to the grand mosque allowed me to see how mosques operate and to see the benefits the Muslim community derive from the mosque. It was an opportunity for non-Muslims to learn about what can sometimes feel like a insular religion.

In today's society more than ever it necessary to learn and understand each other's values and customs so that we can live harmoniously and further develop out own cultures.


  1. While I'm not normally mad about mosques, this is particularly impressive.

  2. I absolutely agree :-) The tour and insight into the inner workings of this magnificent mosque is the best part about the mosque!

    All the best from Abu Dhabi!

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  4. You would really marvel at the grandeur of this architectural masterpiece. Just magnificent.



living in the United Arab Emirates