Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be moving to a foreign country to live, let alone a country in the Middle East. Over the 2009 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, my husband Roger and I discussed what we wanted the next part of our life to be like. He thought that before retiring, he would like to do one more airport project but only if he could find something very interesting. I half-jokingly agreed that would be fine but could he try for an exotic location? As usual, Roger came through and soon we were headed to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This blog is a recap of our "leap-of- faith" wanderings around the Middle East and beyond. We joyfully share these expat experiences.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque - One of the most talked about attractions in the world!

Official image of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
It seems quite a lot of people agree with me that the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is one of the most wonderful places on this earth!

Just this week the UAE newspapers reported that users of TripAdvisor ranked it as number 16 on the list of the top most talked about attractions in the world. It joins the ranks of such iconic global sites as Sydney Harbor, the Coliseum in Rome, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Central Park in New York City. 

What makes it so special?
As for myself, I listed it as #1 on my 2012 Top Adventures In and Around Dubai blog posting. I believe the Mosque is every bit as grand and elegant as the Taj Mahal which I saw in April 2012. It truly is a remarkable work of art and one of the UAE's most important architectural treasures.  

Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan
If you have time to see only one site while visiting Dubai or Abu Dhabi make it the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. You will not regret it.  And make certain that you arrive in time to catch a tour. Your appreciation of the beauty of this place increases as you learn about the unique architectural elements.

If you are not Muslim, the tours offer a first-rate opportunity to learn about the religion and its practices. For information on timings check the Grand Mosque's web site. 

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, an important legacy of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan (may God rest his soul) the founder of the United Arab Emirates, is one of the world’s most impressive examples of modern Islamic architecture. It took 11 years to complete. The sheer beauty and majesty of the structure takes your breath away from the first moment you catch a glimpse of it as you come off the highway. 

Standing like mighty beacons of Islamic culture, the four towering minarets catch your eye first. The Mosque's 82 bulbous white domes, clad in pure white marble from Greece, gleam in the sunlight like brilliant alabaster crowns. As you approach the Mosque, the majesty of the structure unfolds.

The entrance to the Mosque is a grand walkway. The  crescent shaped finials
on top of the domes are decorated with gold and glass mosaics. 

Non-Muslims are generally not allowed inside a mosque. However,  Sheikh Zayed's vision of tolerance based on traditions of respect and the exchange of ideas, led to the opening of the Grand Mosque to everyone regardless of creed. It is seen as a welcoming gesture to promote a culture of tolerance, love, rationality and mutual dialogue. To enter the mosque you must be properly covered. Here are good friends Jon and Elaine Krupnick with Roger and me are properly clothed properly in abayas and kandoras provided by the Mosque.    

The reflective pool at the east entrance intensifies the 
beauty of this architectural masterpiece. 

At  the gated entrance to the Mosque are fourteen green glass domes that are in the roof of the underground male and female ablution (cleansing) facilities. Above ground, they are an important part of the Islamic garden theme.

Before prayer Muslims are required to cleanse themselves in an ablution process known as wudu. Here, my sister Paty sits at the women's ablution area which were built to resemble fountains. 

The sahan (outer courtyard), the largest example of a marble mosaic in the world, was designed using a combination of mosaic and inlay techniques with thirty different kinds of colored marble used in the design. The sahan can hold 30,000 male worshipers while another 10,000 male worshipers can be accommodated in the interior prayer halls. During the month of Ramadan more than 270,000 Muslims worship at the Grand Mosque.

The arcade, a grand outer walkway that surrounds the sahan, has 1,000 columns made of 20,000 marble panels inlaid with semi-precious stones such as lapis lazuli, red agate, and amethyst. Also used in the decorations are abalone shell and mother of pearl. 

Colorful flowers and vines gracefully climb the marble columns.

The golden capitals are representative of the date palm's pruned stubs of old leaf bases which terminate in a crown of graceful pinnate leaves.

Designed in the traditional geometrical Islamic floral design, our Emirati Cultural Guide explains the intricacies of the inlaid marble floor. This floral design appears throughout the Mosque.  

In the entrance foyer, Roger listens attentively to our Emirati Cultural Guide. Behind him you see the walls decorated with the traditional Islamic floral design. Here most of the decorative work was individually carved by hand.   

In the main prayer hall there are three identical chandeliers of which the center one, the third largest chandelier in the world, weighs approximately 12 tons. The smaller ones weigh 8 tons each. Like the chandeliers in the foyer, these are made of gilded stainless steel, gilded brass, 24 k gold and are studded with Swarovski crystals.  

Four identical blue colored chandeliers. produced in Germany, grace the foyer entrance. They are made from gilded stainless steel and gilded  brass. Approximately 40kg of 24 carat galvanized gold was used. Millions of Swarovski crystals studded glass panels grace the chandeliers. 

The main prayer hall is a wide open space that accommodates 10,000 male worshipers who pray standing side by side along rows discretely indicated in the carpet design. The three main domes of the mosque rise above the hall.

The women's prayer hall can accommodate 1500 female worshipers.  

The carpet in the main prayer hall is the world's largest hand-knotted carpet containing a total of 2,268,000,000 knots. More than 1,200 artisans in an Iranian village worked by hand on the carpet which was designed by Dr. Ali Khaliqi, a third generation carpet maker. It took more than two years to complete this 5,700 square meter masterpiece. 

The clock in the mail prayer hall tells the timings of the five times a day 
Muslims bow down to Allah to pray. 

Roger and our son Russell stand in front of the Minbar, the pulpit used by the imam to deliver the Friday message. It is made of carved cedar wood with a floral and shell design that is adorned with inlays of mother of pearl, glass, mosaic and while gold.  Above the small overhead dome is a gold crescent finial. To the left is the Mihrab, an ornamental indentation in the wall, which marks the direction of the qiblah, the direction Muslims face during ritual prayer. Shaped like a doorway, the mihrab also amplifies the imam's voice during prayer.    

In the wall behind the Minbar are the 99 names of Allah carved in white Italian marble. The calligraphy design, considered the highest from of Islamic art,  was created by UAE calligrapher Mohmmed Mansi Al Tamimi.


  1. This looks like an incredible place and I'd love to visit it one day. Thanks for sharing these great pictures.

    1. You are very welcome. You and your wife are very adventurous. Why don't you come on over?

  2. As always a lovely display of how wonderful things are seen through your eyes

  3. Couldn't be more timely. Planning to visit for the first time next week. You've whetted my appetite further.

  4. Whetting your astute appetite take some doing. Enjoy!!

  5. Thank you for this beautifully detailed and vivid post Katie..You are promoting tolerance and understanding yourself with your thoughtful posts about the Arab and Islamic world. Lovely photos too...

  6. Musandam Dibba I like your way of posts its really good .

  7. Great informative site. I'm really impressed after reading this blog post. I really appreciate the time and effort you spend to share this with us!

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  8. Very nice information. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Very beautiful mosque. Must visit in UAE

  10. Dubai is also known as a city of gold and you should have a car in the city of gold. Well, Dubai have many things to explore and if you want to really enjoy in the city you should prefer a car ride so you can enjoy the views of this amazing city, and if you have already enjoyed the views and you are searching for something new then you should prefer desert safari and especially the Evening Desert Safari in Dubai, because the sight of sunset behind the sand dunes is a thing you don't want to miss.