The 8th largest mosque in the world and the largest of its kind in the UAE is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – a glittering white palace of worship!
I am not religious in way, shape, or form, but I do like to experience the local culture and religion when I am travelling, and here in the Middle-East, of course Islam is the majority belief. Muslims from all over Abu Dhabi come to the impressive Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to worship Allah, and such is the impressiveness of this mosque, it has also became one of the major tourist attractions in the emirates; in fact, you could say it is the jewel of Abu Dhabi! Despite a little hiccup on my way to the mosque involving a very obnoxious taxi driver, I enjoyed an early morning visit and was able to get a further understanding of the wonders of Islam. I didn’t want to get the bus, which while cheaper, only drops you off about a 10 minute walk from the mosque itself, which in this heat is a non-starter for me, so a taxi it was (and an expensive one at that!).
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was the brainchild of the former President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who wanted to build a mosque that would incorporate the history and future of Islam in its design. One of the principal influences for its design – including of the dome layout and the floorplan – is said to have come from the Badshahi Mosque of Lahore in Pakistan, and a mixture of marble, gold, crystal, and simple ceramics were used in its construction. The mosque took 9 years to complete and at a cost of 2b Dirhams (£375m or thereabouts). It was finally opened in 2007, with the former President’s body laid to rest in its grounds. There are floral motifs all around the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, even in the outer courtyards and holding rooms; you can tell no expense was spared to give the former President what he wanted!
During EID festivities, up to 40,000 people can worship here at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, but more regularly it is the gathering place for Friday prayer for many emirs and locals in Abu Dhabi. The main prayer room is where the majority of these worshippers will come and pray and I was astonished at how beautiful it looked. I have been in other mosques such as the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur and even the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, but nothing came close to the majesty before my eyes here.
In many ways, my trip to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque reminded me of the Taj Mahal in Agra – and no, not just because of the colour! There are many Mughal design elements of this mosque which of course hark back to the construction of the Taj by Shah Jahan for his wife all those years ago. In addition, my trip to the mosque was also one of those rare occasions (and VERY rare in the Middle-East, to be honest) when you are left breathless and taken aback by the beauty on display before you, for this really must be the jewel of Abu Dhabi!
The mosque is open Monday to Thursday from 9am to 9pm (although opening and closing times in the Middle-East do vary according to whatever mood the owners are in on the day). Although you can explore much of the place on your own, I happened to enjoy a free tour of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and these tours run throughout the day.