Each year, thousands of visitors, including locals, expatriates and international tourists, make their way to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (SZGM). Most are usually drawn to the majestic beauty of the building. The SZGM, however, offers more than just a backdrop for the perfect UAE holiday photographs. A trip there provides the visitor interesting and historical information on Islamic culture, art and architecture.
The mosque is built at the entrance of Abu Dhabi City and considered to be one of the finest examples of contemporary Islamic architecture in the world. It is raised nine metres above the land around it, allowing its magnificent beauty to be seen from the three main bridges connecting the island (the Maqta, Mussafah and the Sheikh Zayed Bridge).
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the official mosque of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and is named after the founder and first president of the country, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. It was Sheikh Zayed who conceptualised the idea of the Grand Mosque in the late 1980s and was intimately involved in its building and design. After his passing, his son HH Sheikh Kalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan continued his father’s dream.
The Mosque opened in December of 2007 to coincide with the Eid Al Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice). The mosque can accommodate up to 40000 worshippers, 10000 inside and 30000 in the external areas.
- Throughout the Grand Mosque, beautiful designs are displayed on the ceilings, floors, carpets and walls. Islamic art does not feature human or animal forms. It uses the elements, geometry, floral motifs and calligraphy.
- The main hall features 96 columns in groups of four. Arches rise to support the towering domes from which three exquisitely coloured designed chandeliers hang.
- Approximately seven thousand worshippers can fit shoulder to shoulder in a straight line inside the main hall.
- The Menbar or pulpit inside the Grand Mosque is made of cedar and is beautifully decorated with floral and shells designs. It is the earliest feature to be identified with Islamic architecture. It is said that the Prophet Mohammed spoke to the community from a Menbar.
- Each week the Kuthbah (message) is delivered from inside the Grand Mosque and can be heard throughout all the mosques in the UAE. It can also be downloaded in English from the website of Islamic Affairs.
- The timings for the daily prayers are based on the cycle of the sun, as such, the prayer times change each day. Prayers can last between 5 – 10 minutes. Men pray in the main prayer hall while women have their own prayer areas.
- The carpet inside the main hall is the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet made with about 70% wool from New Zealand and 30% cotton from Iran. It was created over 12 months by approximately 1200 artisans. It is approximately 5,400sq metres and weighs 35 tonnes.
- The Grand Mosque has a world-class library, which houses various books on many different subjects in more than twelve languages. The SZGM Centre was established in 2008 to oversee the operations of the mosque and to manage its wide range of community services. It has a book-publishing programme, provides calligraphy classes and Ramadan Night Programmes among other services.
NB. The information contained in this article is taken mainly from the (guided) audio tour at The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.