Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
By Justin Johny
Location: Abu Dhabi, UAE

So it was a Friday (which is like the Sunday of this part of the world) and the friends who generally entertain me or are entertained by me (or both) hadn’t called me yet.  It was time to see what was happening with FSO…

A short piece of info before we proceed: a year back I had joined a club for photography enthusiasts called Friday Shoot Out, a.k.a FSO (check them on Facebook; quite cool clicks in their gallery). They are jolly good guys with no apprehensions about helping a novice in the field of photography.  I called one of the guys in this club to have a chat and he in turn asked me if I wanted to join an Abu Dhabi trip with some other chaps to click, and if I was interested in the subject of the week: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.  Interested I was; I had heard about the grandeur of it and, more importantly, I hadn’t been in a mosque before, so why not see the largest one in the country?

After lunch in Dubai I met up with seven others from the club and off we went.  One and a half hours later we reached the blessed place without any confusion, and as we caught our first glimpses of the structure we were quick to recognize: it’s huge!  You get out of the car and honestly you are overwhelmed by the sheer size and beauty of this place of worship.  With a total of 82 domes, about 1000 columns (I kid you not) and four large minarets, rest assured you haven’t seen anything like it yet—at least not in the UAE.

Not done yet; around the mosque they have built huge pools with dark tiles, hence they are reflective.  Pretty much everything that you see in white is marble and the inlaid designs are either florally coloured marble or mosaic.  Everything that looks like gold IS gold and all of the stones are semi-precious.  It sounds elaborate, I know, but they have managed to keep it aesthetically subtle.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Enormous glass chandelier

Now that I am almost done with the outer structure let’s move inside shall we?  The wall facing Mecca (Qibla Wall), the direction where worshippers face when they pray, has the 99 names or qualities of Allah inscribed on it.  Despite its enormous size they have restrained themselves from making it gaudy.  Those chandeliers that you see in the pictures are crystal; they have some prime glass work and, by the way, one of them is the largest in the world at ten meters in diameter.  At the time I didn’t notice the detailed work that went into the carpet I was walking on, but since then I have read up on it so let me point it out: it is the largest hand-knotted carpet in the world and it had some really gorgeous patterns on it—kudos to the Iranian artisans.  The walls of the hall also had some spectacular designs and the story about the marble remains the same: just B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L.

We were not the only curious ones who had dropped in to see this striking masterpiece; there were also hordes of tourists scuttling around the place.  You could probably imagine the chaos in the prayer hall, and yet in between all of this you could spot some who could have their thoughts in place and pray – and they do justice to the late Sheikh Zayed’s vision of building a mosque which personified peace, tolerance and diversity.  HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1918-2004) was the first President of the United Arab Emirates, and he was popularly known as the “Father of the Nation.”

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Reflecting pools

More structural details now.  I had been in the mosque for awhile and it was time I stepped back outdoors; it was also prayer time and the moment when non-Muslims are supposed to vacate the hall.  Outside the setting sun was casting some heavenly rays, almost as though it was working its magic on those who came to pray and visit alike.  We had been here for about two hours and now someone in our group suggested that we stay just a bit longer, until the lights on the mosque came on and then we would have some more shots.  Why not?  No one was complaining.  Honestly I have to thank that chap for making that suggestion; the mosque looked mesmerising in the night.  Remember those reflective pools?  They made a lot of sense at that time of the day; those columns paint a beautiful picture on the calm water in the pools. It was by far one of the most striking man-made structures my eyes have seen.

Now that I have rambled on enough about a religious site and I am not finding a better way to end it, let me make a confession (if you have been bitten by the shutterbug you may find the next bit interesting): I was not simply interested to see the place, be in a big mosque or only for the love of photography and the opportunity to write about it later.  I was also hoping to enter some of the pictures for an annual photography competition organised by the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Centre, which has a considerably big purse for the winners. Then someone pointed out to me that I was supposed to get the final three pictures, as per the theme, posted and delivered by the next morning—impossible.

Thus went down the drain my hopes to get richer.  But hey, as an eternal optimist I must say, I had a fantastic experience, I met some wonderful people, and I got some shots that I could probably enter for the next year’s competition.  So I sent up a prayer and got back into the vehicle for the ride back home.  And if you are in this part of the world, a drive down to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque will give you plenty to gawk at.

Snap some pictures and maybe you could be a winner too!

Essential Info
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Location: Abu Dhabi, situated in between the three main bridges connecting the city with the mainland.  Parking is available on site.
Hours: Open 9am-10pm daily, except on Friday mornings during prayers.  Tours at scheduled times are available.
Entry: free.
Code of conduct: as this is a place of worship, only modest attire and behaviour will be tolerated.  No shorts or short sleeves allowed.  All women will be asked to wear a traditional robe (abaya) and headscarf (shayla) before entering the mosque (which can be provided).

Click on the thumbnails below to see more photos of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.