Abu Dhabi: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

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Image: iStockphoto

Halima Ali marvels at the marble of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

In this small women’s changing room in the grounds of the vast Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, there are a lot of arms flapping about. Among the rails of black abayas spread across two walls, a handful of ladies from various parts of the world are struggling to quickly dress themselves in the robes deemed appropriate for a place of worship.

A diminutive, white-haired German visitor looks frustrated as she is swamped in the black cloth, while another tentatively asks me: “Is it this ok or shall I tie the hood?” I look down and realise the one I’m borrowing is too short, stopping halfway down my shins, and leaving my trousers on display.

There’s no time to correct my fashion faux pas, however. The change over from our own clothes to mosque-issued attire is quick, with female security guards assisting us, and we’re ushered out of the cold changing room into the glare of the Abu Dhabi sun reflecting off the gleaming white marble.

We cling on to our hoods and headscarves as a free guided tour is commenced, and I follow visitors of all religions through to the main prayer hall, where we walk barefoot on the world’s largest carpet, produced in Iran by over a 1,000 female weavers, chosen specifically because their small fingers were suitable for the intricate hand knotting required.

Looking up, we marvel at the 24-carat gold gilded chandeliers adorning the soaring ceilings, including a particularly impressive 12-ton fixture made of Swarovski crystals and Murano glass.

Slipping away from the group, I wander back out to the grounds as the sun begins to set. The domes encircling the courtyard — there are 82 in total — create a fortress-like feel, and combined with the vastness of the site, it feels as though you’re cut off from the rest of the world.

Having travelled to Abu Dhabi from Dubai, this is certainly a contrast to the forest of shiny skyscrapers – yes, the mosque is big, but not brash. There’s stillness here, and shade amid the heat.

To the right of the prayer hall, at the tomb of Sheikh Zayed — the former leader of the emirate — schoolgirls dressed in long-skirted brown pinafores giggle and playfully push each other. They peer through the green geometric lattice surrounding the sheikh’s final resting place as the gentle sound of 20 men, all hidden from view, reciting the Quran, echoes out.

The ladies’ prayer hall is empty. I sit cross-legged in the silence admiring the floral patterns embellishing the walls when suddenly, with less than 10 minutes to go before maghrib — the prayer performed just after sunset — women hurriedly begin to arrive. Some greet friends with kisses, and I imagine they’re exchanging gossip, while others try but fail to control their excited children as they too meet their playmates.

Two young boys rather violently wrestle each other to the ground, while the mass of school girls I saw earlier also pour in, each grabbing a copy of the Quran and beginning to recite. Six minutes later, the muezzin issues the call to prayer and the room falls silent.

This blog was published on CountryByCountry.com

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