How to visit a mosque: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

I am rolling the sleeves of my shirt down to my wrists. In my bag, I grab a pareo that I carefully wrap up around my head in order to hide my hair. I motion with confidence towards the women’s entrance of the mosque, when I am called back: my pants show my bottom and that is not acceptable here at Sheikh Zayed Al Kabeer Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Also known as Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, this half-a-billion euro place of worship is the largest of the UAE, and can host more than 40,000 worshipers. I am taken to the cloakroom where abayas of every size are hanging. I choose one, put it on fast, check that my hair is well covered, and go back to the entrance of the mosque.

I wander around the massive white building topped off by its high and slender minarets from where the muezzin calls for prayer. The aesthetically shaped dome looks imposing. This is under this dome that the main prayer hall is located. To access this very sacred place, I store my shoes amongst hundreds of pairs and walk bare feet on the cold marble that feels refreshing in the heat of the evening. I walk around the spacious courtyard admiring the reflections of the extraordinarily lit mosque on the shiny marble.

Passing by hundreds of precious stone inlaid columns, I eventually reach the main prayer hall. It shows the typical features of a mosque. The dome provides echo to let everyone hear the prayer. The mihrab, or wall niche, points towards Mecca, hence the direction faced by Muslims when praying. The architecture inside that room shows geometric and floral elements along with some calligraphy from the Quran that are kept simple to not be distracting when praying. This is also why men and women pray in different rooms.

The more-than-5000-square-metre carpet is richly coloured. Made in Iran, it is said to be the largest carpet in the world. Above us, a captivating chandelier lights up the room with its 10-metre diameter and Swarovski crystals.

The attention put into that room shows how important gathering for prayer is for Muslims. Indeed, praying is one of the five fundamental pillars of Islam. It takes place five times a day, with the first one starting right before complete sunrise and the last one right when it gets dark. Worshipers have to check praying times as they evolve daily or pay attention to the call of the muezzin.

The other four pillars are:

  • declaration of faith,
  • act of fasting: the specific dates for Ramadan are defined according to the lunar calendar and change every year,
  • charity: going from a simple smile to donating 2.5 % of your wealth to the ones in need amongst your extended family, or community, or others,
  • pilgrimage to Mecca: first house of worship ordered by God to be built by Abraham and his son Ismael, it is considered to be the holiest place on earth by Muslims.

The prayer is about to start when we leave the grounds of the mosque to the call of the muezzin. Locals in dishdashes and abayas come in as we hand in ours contemplating the grandeur of this special place of worship.

Marcella & Claire

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