- Oct 05, 2018
It was sometime in the 1980s when the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan ('Zayed the Great') began contemplating the idea of building a mosque. A special place that would not only be used as a centre of worship, but also to stand as a symbol of the cultural diversity present in the Islamic world, and its unification. Thus emerged the seed for the now iconic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
Laying the foundation
Fast forward to 1996 and construction in Abu Dhabi officially began, reaching completion eleven years later in 2007 – sadly three years after the passing of the Founding Father himself who is buried on site.
Grand in mission, scale, and design, the mosque sits on 6,500 foundation piles surrounded by 33,000 tonnes of steel which were used in its construction. It took the effort of 38 contractors and over 3,000 workers to bring to life the vision Sheikh Zayed had of marrying the cultural diversity of the Islamic world with the historical and modern values of architecture and art.
Skills and materials from all over the world were sourced to piece together this decade-long project which features marble, stone, gold, crystals, ceramics, and even semi-precious stones. Craftsmen were employed from as far as Italy, Germany, Morocco, Macedonia, India, Turkey, China, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Greece.
An architectural marvel
There is much to be noticed when one stops to take in the designs of the largest mosque in the country, which boasts a mix of Mughal, Moorish and Ottoman influences – as evidenced by the uniformed touches, the arches and gardens, and the domes and ceramic use.
With a capacity to host around 40,000 worshippers, the mosque is spread over 12 hectares encompassing a myriad of design elements from the Quran verses inscribed on the insides of each of the 82 domes topping the structure, to the 1,192 palm tree-shaped columns with golden fronds, clad in marble and inlaid with floral designs and semi-precious stones.
The courtyard, which spans 17,000 square meters, ventures away from the expected traditional geometric patterns and instead features a more floral design with flowers displayed being those that can grow in the Arabian Peninsula such as iris, tulip, jasmine, roses and passiflora.
Reflective pools also surround the mosque, their striking white and gold colours shining in the sun, which then transform at night through a unique lighting system used to reflect the phases of the moon as it waxes and wanes.
Beyond offering itself as a place of worship for Muslims, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is also home to an educational centre – located in the west minarets – which offer a myriad of cultural activities as well as tours.
Among the programmes offered, visitors can pick to take a more religious track and learn about the Quran – or even learn about the history of Islam through the seminars often hosted.
There is also a library on the grounds – in the northwest minaret – which is home to a number of classic books and publications addressing a range of Islamic subjects: sciences, civilization, calligraphy, the arts, and coins. This includes some rare publications dating back more than 200 years. The collection comprises material in a broad range of languages including Arabic, English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, and Korean.
The mosque sees just as many visitors as it does worshipers throughout the year and has become a knowledge point for many expats who wish to learn more about the Emirati culture as well.
It is worth noting that before visiting, care must be given to one's attire and manners as it is a place of worship. This means no tight-wear, no shorts or t-shirts, or graphic clothing of any kind. No smoking, food or drinks either.