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A trip to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

If you have ever visited Abu Dhabi, the beautiful capital of the United Arab Emirates and you failed to stop over at the gigantic Sheikh…

If you have ever visited Abu Dhabi, the beautiful capital of the United Arab Emirates and you failed to stop over at the gigantic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, you have probably missed out something big. But you may not have missed it all: If you didn’t go to the mosque premises to worship or for tourism, you might probably have sited its huge minarets from afar, or you might even have heard its ‘centralised azan’ wherever you were in the city. 

These were part of what officials from the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development told about 50 foreigners, including these reporters, who were from the participants in the last Annual Investment Meeting (AIM) 2017 at the Dubai World Trade Centre between April 2 and 4.

They encouraged us, or rather cajoled us to visit Abu Dhabi, the Smart City. And they said our visit to Abu Dhabi wouldn’t be complete without stopping over to see the Sheikh’s wish, the magnificent mosque. So the 50 of us who had shown interest went. We left Dubai in two long buses, which were driven slowly in order for us to catch a look of the beautiful tourism city.

Beautifully planned with good road networks and skyscrapers, Dubai and Abu Dhabi probably have few equals among cities in the world. Orderliness on the road is probably second to none. One driver told us that even in the dead of night you dared not disobey the traffic light.

We got to Abu Dhabi around noon and we were taken straight to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. 

Who is Sheikh Zayed? 

The man behind the modern UAE was Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the first president of the gulf country and the ruler of Abu Dhabi. According to our tour guide, Amina Al-Hammadi, Sheikh Zayed was born in 1918 in the city of Al-Ain. He was named after his grandfather, Sheikh Zayed bin khalifa Al-Nahyan, who ruled Abu Dhabi from 1855 to 1909. 

The experience the junior Zayed had growing up in a harsh desert environment had a tremendous impact on shaping his exceptional personality. He was known for his patience, insightfulness and optimism but the central trait of his personality was wisdom, we were told. He was elected, or rather selected as president of the UAE on December 2, 1971.

His death 

Sheikh Zayed, Al-Hammadi told us, passed away on November 2, 2004 and was immediately succeeded by his son, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. He was buried very close to the mosque and his mausoleum is located on the north side of the grand mosque. This is because, according to the tour guide, the mosque was dear to the late president. To supplicate for the soul of the late Sheikh, the holy Quran is read 24 hours (except during the times of five daily prayers) every day by reciters who take turns to do this all days of the week. 

The Sheikh and his wish

Al-Hammadi said: “The concept of diversity is personified in the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a majestic marvel that reveals a spectrum of architectural splendours formulating a harmonious unity between different Islamic architectural schools. The mosque also includes a variety of post-modern architectural designs enriching its historical Islamic tastes.”

She said the late Sheikh Zayed aimed to establish a historical mosque, personifying the Islamic message of peace, tolerance and diversity. According to her, the Sheikh intended to turn the Grand Mosque into a living reference in modern Islamic architecture, linking the past with the present in a harmonious melody.

The mosque is the fruit of Sheikh Zayed’s unique vision. The father of UAE has created an Islamic monument, a centre for Islamic sciences and emblem of genuine Islamic values in order to illuminate the horizons of Islamic thought rooted in tolerance, love and peace.

The Grand Mosque

Sitting majestically at the entrance to Abu Dhabi City Island, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is distinctly visible from the three main bridges connecting the island to the main land: the Maqta, Mussafah and the Sheikh Zayed Bridge. 

Our tour guide told us it took the UAE 11 years to build the 55,000 capacity mosque, the third largest in the Islamic world. The building of the mosque was kick-started in 1996 by the late president, who died before it could be completed in 2007. Billions of Dirham was sunk into the building of the edifice, according to the tour guide.   

It was built by more than 38 contractors and thousands of workers, who handled various elements of the structure and decoration. Materials were also sourced from many countries, including Greece, Italy, Germany, China, Austria, India and New Zealand, according information on the mosque’s website.

The mosque features 82 domes, over a 1,000 columns, 24 carat gold gilded chandeliers and the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet. The main prayer hall is dominated by one of the world’s largest chandeliers -10 metres in diameter, 15 metres in height and weighing 12 tonnes. 

The largest of the domes is located in the main prayer hall. The design elements include pure white marble cladding, onion shaped ‘crowns’ and crescent shaped finials decorated with gold-glass mosaic. The elongated windows allow the natural light to enter the prayer halls.

The inside of the domes feature traditional Moroccan artwork, which was made from reinforced plaster called GRG. Encircling the inside of the domes are verses from the Holy Quran, which are also moulded from GRG and painted in gold colour. Other domes are found on the grand gated entrance and other entrances. There are also 14 green glass domes incorporated into the roof of the underground male and female ablution facilities. 

It is only in the mosque that you will find a single hand-knotted carpet, which is the largest in a single room or hall across the world. It was made by 1,200 women for 18 months. The women were Iranians. The carpet covers 5,500sqm, according Al-Hammadi.

Reflective pools surround the mosque, amplifying its beauty. The striking white and gold colours shining in the sun are transformed at night by a unique lightning system, which reflects the phases of the moon, according to the tour guide.

The lightning system was designed to reflect the phases of the moon. Soft undulating clouds of a bluish grey colour are projected onto the white marble external surfaces of the mosque, including the façade and domes. Each day appears a little different from the next as the lighting cycle commences with darker clouds when the month is in its early stages and the moon is a small crescent. As the moon progresses through its cycle and becomes full, the lightning effect becomes more brilliant. We were told there are 22 light towers consisting of an efficient number of light projectors to achieve this creative effect.

The pure white colour of the mosque is probably one of its most distinguishing characteristics. The late Sheikh Zayed loved white and he ensured anything that has to do with colour from dressing, building and others have to be white, the symbol of purity and piety. Therefore the Grand Mosque was ‘dressed’ with numerous quantity of white marble on the external surfaces. 

It was about 12:40 local time and time for Zuhr prayer.  

A centralised Azan (call to prayer) is made from the Grand Mosque and it is broadcast from here to all the mosques in Abu Dhabi through a satellite system. 

After the Azan, the tour came to an end with a parting sentence from Amina Al-Hammadi: “Hope you all will come back to Abu Dhabi very soon.”

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