My friend and I decided to brave inter-Emirate UAE public transit and to head to Abu Dhabi to see Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque. Though in total it took us about three hours between the metro and two buses to get there and another three hours to get back, we felt very accomplished at not getting lost.
The mosque was absolutely stunning, and well worth the journey. We arrived late afternoon and stayed through the sunset, meaning that we got to see the colours change and the shadows grow. It was one of those perfect nights with the silhouette of the moon entirely visible behind its silver crescent and, to my delight, a few stars.
We took a tour, and I learned a few fun facts. The ground the mosque had been built on was elevated 9 meters in order to make the mosque more visible from afar. The minarets are 170m tall. The marble in the courtyard doesn’t absorb heat, so in the summer one can still walk barefoot across comfortably. In the entry hall, there are flower decals representing all regions of the world–the flowers on the south wall are of the south, etc. The chandeliers weighed up to 12 tons a piece, and the carpet inside is the largest Persian carpet in existence today and had weighed 40 tons initially. The designers intended for the mosque to be a place for the international community; as such, many parts from marble and jewels to gold and designs had been imported from all over. There was a lot of mother-of-pearl/paua from New Zealand.
While it was gorgeous, I couldn’t help but compare it to the Mausoleum of Shah-e Cheragh, a mosque in Shiraz, Iran. I’d like to see the Grand Mosque on a Friday when it’s filled with people praying. Since it was chock-full with tourists, it again felt like another display of the UAE’s wealth to the world. I did appreciate our tour guide talking about how the mosque is very important in educating foreigners about Islam and how Muslims practice their religion, and the mosque, visible from the three main roads into Abu Dhabi, is definitely a distinguishing and welcoming site.