The Grand Mosque is grand indeed!

Mention the words "world famous religious icons" and images of The Vatican in Rome, The Blue Mosque in Istanbul, The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and even Angkor Wat in Cambodia enter peoples minds. I however would like to amend that cliche list and enlighten everyone about the new kid on the block in relation to impressive religious monuments. I present the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
Entrance to the Grand Mosque

Internal view of the Grande Mosque

View from the main entrance
Just to clarify for the uninitiated, generally only people of the muslim faith are allowed to enter mosques but to reflect the spirit of Islam, a religion of peace, education and tolerance, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque is open to visitors of all nationalities for educational tours. I, for one, am glad they did as this monument is astonishing.
There are a number of rules that must be observed when visiting the mosque. They are as follows;

We kindly ask all visitors to respect our religion and place of prayer by following these simple requests: Visitors must be dressed appropriately on arrival; if not, entry will be denied.
  • - Modest, conservative, loose fitting clothing; long sleeves, long skirts and trousers
  • - No transparent (see-through) clothing
  • - No shorts for men
  • - No shorts and  skirts must be ankle length
  • - No tight clothing, no swimwear and no beachwear.
  • - Shoes will be removed before entering the mosque, so we recommend slip off shoes
  • - Headscarf for ladies is essential (these can be provided when you arrive)
  • - Intimate behaviour; i.e. holding hands or kissing is not acceptable in a Muslim place of worship
  • - For safety and respect to worshippers, visitors should stay within the areas of the mosque that  are permitted and not roam freely around. Smoking and food are not allowed in the mosque area
- Visitors are requested not to touch the Holy Quran (Holy Book) and other architectural elements  inside the main prayer hall

Colour columns and patterns
Once you have entered the Mosque, you cant help but feel impressed with its design and construction. The level of detail demonstrated in every aspect of this mosque is insane and yet, it balances itself perfectly between eccentricity and beauty. The Mosque has approximately 1000 columns in its outer areas which are clad with more than 20,000 marble panels inlaid with semi-precious stones including lapis lazuli, red agate, amethyst, abalone shell and mother of pearl.

Column details showing semi-precious stones

The outside and inside of the Mosque is covered in varying types of marble from throughout the world. The majority of which is from Greece and Macedonia which was used to cover a total of 115,119 square metres of cladding. Other countries where the marble has been sourced from is from Italy, India and China. When walking in the main square the varying colours of marble radiate differing temperatures and the feeling as you walk over it in bare feet is intriguing and enjoyable to say the least.

With the complex being so large and interesting, taking one of the free tours (from uber chic Emirati people) allows you to get indepth information about all aspects of the Mosque, the Muslim faith and any other questions you have in relation to the United Arab Emirates. To the left of the main entrance is one of the "overflow" prayer rooms.

 Overflow Prayer room

 If you have ever wondered how all the people praying stay in straight lines, the trick is in the carpet. In the picture above you can see raised straight lines. These allow the mats on which pilgrims pray, to stay in line and uniform. The reason for this is to allow worshipers to pray touching shoulder to shoulder therefore symbolizing that everyone is joined and there is no difference between race, wealth, political beliefs or opinions. It is a magnificent room and the roof is a 98% exact copy of the carpet. It is in here that you start to really appreciate the amount of pride and high quality workmanship that has gone into all aspects of the Mosque.

Carpet detail
From here you are ushered into the main worship hall which is breathtaking as you enter in and the see the magnificance of it all. The main prayer hall can fit just over 7,000 worshippers and it is here that you will see and feel the worlds largest carpet.This hand-knitted carpet was completed by 1,200 artisans from Iran and consists of 2,268,000 knots. It sounds big and when you are walking around on it you realise how incredibly big it really is and the skill involved in the design and patterns. For a measly US$8.2 million, you can have one also

Inside the main prayer room
As with any place of grandeur, chandeliers are a necessity as they not only demonstrate beauty and opulence but are also good for lighting. The grand Mosque had (until quite recently) the worlds largest chandelier with it being 10 metres wide, 15 metres high and weighing over 9 tonnes. It hangs in the main dome. There are a total of seven gold coloured chandeliers consisting of thousands upon thousands of Swarovski crystals. As much as they are indeed majestic, their colour selection is reminiscent of a tragic 80's smut movie set and definitely removes some of their beauty.

One of seven chandeliers (notice the 80s colour choice)

Chandelier from below

The last part of the tour concludes whilst in front of the main prayer Quran book and the seat where the Imam delivers his speeches.  

Most important seat in the house
This is one of the very few places in the whole Mosque which is not open to public access and justifiably so. For those who are interested the gold cove seen in the above photo represents the rivers of milk and honey that the Muslim faith believes will be waiting for them in heaven. Its such a simple design and yet so completely representative of their beliefs. That in itself makes its incredibly beautiful.

Completion of the tour allowed us to wander around and enjoy the Mosque in our own personal way. Some visitors simply sat on the carpet to take it all in whilst others walked around trying to get their stereotypical holiday photos, with peace signs proudly presented next to wide brimming smiles.

Find your own way to enjoy the Mosque
Grandeur of the Mosque with human scale

On a side note I would like to remind anybody visiting the Grande Mosque to remember that it is infact a place of worship primarily and so respect is needed to be given to worshipers at all times. It is illegal to photograph Emirati women and photographing worshipers must be done with their consent. However the local people are very friendly and are more than often happy to oblige.

Ask first photograph second

Qurans (do not touch!)

With the Mosque being so large it is easy to be blown away by it all, but try to focus on the detail incorporated into all aspects of the construction. Subtle colours, decorations, written language and those little finishing touches that make these sorts of places beyond beautiful, are everywhere to be found. Consider it an architectural treasure hunt if you will. Look hard enough and you wont be disappointed.

Inner pillar beauty

Look to the heavens

The detail is mesmerizing
Yours truly 

Once you've had enough of the air conditioned bliss of the main prayer room, I encourage you to venture back outside and enjoy minimalist architecture at its best. After the challenge of relocating ones shoes amongst the hundreds of other pairs has been overcome, wander around and marvel at how beautiful three colours can look together. Blue sky, white marble coatings and gold trim seem to balance each other harmoniously and for some reason you feel compelled to look at it incessantly. For me I guess it has always symbolized travel and adventure and to finally see it first hand was something that not only made me smile in satisfaction, but also spurred me on to immerse myself even further into Arabian culture.

Perfect colour balance

Inner courtyard detail
Cliche shot? Most definately
Minimalism at its best

With the worlds view on Muslin countries and the beliefs of Islam being so full of misguided information and
fear mongering, it is absolutely brilliant that the Grande Mosque is not only open to everyone to appreciate its beauty, but allow us to be educated in what it symbolises to Muslin worshipers. Get out there and experience this marvel of human engineering, architecture, vision and faith. You will not be disappointed. Whilst inside a sense of calm and tranquility is present and quite refreshing. Try leaving the Grande Mosque without being blown away by the beauty and virtues of this place and a greater understanding of the Muslim faith. Education with beauty, grandeur and air conditioning....what more could you want?

Safe travels until next time