Unholies in UAE – Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque

So far you’ve seen me climb dunes in Abu Dhabi, visit a falcon hospital, paddle some mangroves and hang out at a chi-chi beach club in my Abu Dhabi trip journals. But Abu Dhabi isn’t just nature and excesses, it is home to the 3rd largest mosque in the world, the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque.

You can see this gleaming white structure from quite a long way off, it is even more impressive as you get closer.
It was a rather cloudy day as I took this panoramic show to try and give a sense of sheer scale of this mosque

The idea of the mosque was conceived in 1986, though work only started 10 years later and finally completed in 2007, utilizing over 3,000 workers and materials from all over the globe. At any one time, the mosque can accommodate up to 40,000 worshippers in its indoor and outdoor courts!

While you can visit it on your own time, I highly recommend taking one of the free English tours because not only do you get a very thorough explanation and background of the mosque, you also get special access and get to walk beyond the barriers of where the normal tourists are directed. The English tours are at 10am, 11am and 4pm (no pre-booking required unless you have a particularly large group)

One of four tour guides during the tour – Jasin was our English guide and a splendid, earnest and knowledgeable person all around.

The tour started quite promptly – it’s a pretty informal set-up where the guides welcome you at the entrance and then split the groups up among the guides. Each guide takes his group to a different area and explains its background and history in detail. A lot of intricate craftsmanship when into building this mosque, and I can’t imagine how much work is needed to keep it this white. Because we were on tour, we got to cut across the courtyard, while other visitors were directed to keep within the marked pathways.

A scale model in the front entrance of the mosque gives you an idea of the scale of the place
There are 82 domes in total in the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque
These pillars are meant to pay homage to that of palm trees, an important part of the Abu Dhabi landscape
There are 4 minarets, one at each corner of the square courtyard
Even the alcoves are intricately decorated
As are the outer courtyard floors, where worshippers spill out onto when it gets too crowded inside. the white marble is cooler to the touch than the coloured marble that makes up the swirling floral mosaic
Here’s a close-up for you, pardon my chipped blue toe nails
I upped the contrast here so you can see the white on white detail, visible only once you’re standing in front of the inner hall entrance!
Look at the size of that front door!

The inside of the mosque is no less impressive than the outside, and it’s hard to decide what to gaze in awe at, whether it’s the huge, glittering chandeliers, the very beautiful wall designs, or what is apparently the world’s largest carpet that covers the interior floor of the mosque. Our guide was very helpful in telling us all this information, and willing to answer any question we had about Islam in general – we were the last group to leave the inner halls which were closed to prepare for prayer time.

Check out the pictures for more details, and while I might not remember the exact details about everything, I think the visit was an eye-opener about Muslims and Islam in general and I definitely recommend anyone visiting Abu Dhabi to pop by the mosque for a visit.

The first inner hallway. Visitors not on the tour have to stay in the barricaded zones. We lucky folk got to walk beyond the barriers and get a pretty up close look at the walls.
Those flowers are not painted on carved into the wall – they’re actually separate slabs of marble painstakingly cut and attached to the wall to form a 3D relief. Absolutely magnificent.
One of the inner halls, the high ceilings are quite awesome
These chandeliers are shipped from Munich, Germany and made of what else, a ton of Swarovski crystals. The largest chandelier hangs underneath the largest central dome.
The carpet is the large continuous piece in the world, weighs 36 tonnes and took 2 years to hand-make and transport. If you notice the raised grooves in the carpet – these lines help demarcate the rows of worshippers and were made by hand-shaving the carpet after it was installed. The shaving took off about 12 tonnes worth of material.
This decorative wall lists the 99 names of Allah
The prayer leader has a very decorative pulpit to stand on so he can see his congregation
This was just a random tile design in the mosque that I thought was pretty
Guide Jasin explains to us this flower clock – it lists all the 5 prayer times for Muslims for that day – Fajr (Dawn), Dhuhr (Midday), Asr (Afternoon), Maghrib (Sunset), Isha’a (Night)… I can’t remember what the 6th petal is for? The center portion has the dates for our calendar and the corresponding Islamic one.

One important thing – what to wear when you’re visiting a mosque. Of course you want to err on the side of modesty, but in the event you forget, don’t worry, they provide free Abayas (the black coverall hooded dress that the local women wear) and Thobes (the white tunic men wear), which might be an experience in itself for you. If not, I was considered appropriate in jeans with a thin long sleeved jacket and a scarf to cover my head.

Here’s the dress code – it’s a lot stricter for women naturally, no tight or short stuff and having to cover your hair
Consider a cloth scarf – my silky one kept falling off my head until I used my hairband to keep it in place
That’s me outside without the scarf on my head


One other time to consider visiting the mosque is during the evening when it gets dark – the mosque has a rather unusual outdoor lighting feature where the colour projected onto the external walls reflects the phase of the moon, ranging from a deep bluish colour during the new moon and getting progressively brilliant as the moon gets fuller! Here’s a photo from the mosque’s website and it looks pretty incredible. Hopefully I’ll be able to come back and see this for myself some time!

photo taken from szgmc.ae photo gallery


Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque
Tel: +971 2 4416444
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.szgmc.ae
Opening Hours: The mosque is generally open from Sat – Thurs from 9am – 10pm, but is closed during prayer time and on Friday till 4.30pm, so keep an eye out here for more details on opening hours and tour timings before you visit.

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