– photo by @oz.photos
Looking at the glitz and glamour of the United Arab Emirate, it is quite hard to believe that just about 60 years ago, the country’s main source of income was pearl diving and fishing. However, discovery of oil in 1960 revolutionised the UAE’s economy and paved the way for the development of world-class cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Today both the cities are famous for their futuristic skyline and luxury shopping centers.
Even though the country seems futuristic and ultramodern, the UAE still retains its traditional and cultural roots. Islam is the official state religion of the UAE and there are about 1500 mosques throughout the country. Among them the largest and perhaps the most beautiful is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. This worshipping place can be visited by anyone – irrespective of their religion. The only requirement is to wear a decent outfit – which includes a long, loose fitting, ankle length trouser or skirt.
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was the founding father and the first president of the United Arab Emirates. He united all the seven emirates that form the UAE and it was his dream to build the mosque. Hoping for a structure that would unite the diverse Islamic world, he set the foundation stone of the mosque in 1996. However, he couldn’t see the final structure as it took 12 years to complete and the president passed away in 2004. He was buried in the courtyard of the mosque.
The building was designed by Yusef Abdelki – an architect from Syria, with the input of over 3,000 global artisans. The mosque shares resemblance with Persian, Mughal and Moorish architecture. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan wanted the primary color of the mosque to be white – a color that represents purity. Therefore, the walls of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque were built of white marble which are adorned with colorful flower shaped stones. Precious materials like gold, gemstones, crystals and ceramics sourced from all over the world were used in the construction of the mosque.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque can accommodate over 40,000 worshippers and features 82 different sized domes and 22 light towers – which depict the various phases of the moon. The giant courtyard and the pillars of the mosque are decorated with beautiful floral designs. At roughly 2.5 times the size of a football field, the courtyard itself is one of the largest marble mosaics in the world.
The inside of the mosque is equally beautiful. The main prayer hall can hold over 7,000 worshippers, has the world’s largest carpet and houses the biggest of the seven chandeliers of the mosque, which are made up of 24-carat gold-plated Swarovski crystals. The walls and the ceiling of the hall are decorated with elegant design and intricate marble work. There are two smaller prayer halls, with a capacity of 1,500 each, one of which is exclusively for women.
Even if you are not a follower of Islam, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a must visit site in the United Arab Emirates. Its majestic architectural beauty offers some of the best photo opportunities in Abu Dhabi, while its peaceful environment is the perfect place for introspection.
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