We were so looking forward to getting to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi for the 10.00am free guided tour. We jumped in the car, drove towards the mosque, then made a fatal error here in the UAE…we took the wrong exit!
Once you take a wrong exit from one major road to another here in Abu Dhabi, you can be stuck trying to get back to where you wanted to go for a long time. Admittedly, given Abu Dhabi’s grid-like road system, it’s much easier to navigate than the craziness of Dubai. But still, here we were once again trying to get back to our destination after taking a wrong turn, and once again the frustration grew and grew.
We finally arrived at the Grand Mosque at about 9.58am. We parked the car, ran towards the mosque and asked the security guard where the guided tour commenced from. It was at this moment our plans came to a shuddering halt. We were informed Sarah wasn’t dressed appropriately. She was wearing a long, short-sleeved dress, but unfortunately that didn’t comply with regulations. So we were told she needed to get an Abaya from a little building just to the side of the mosque.
We made our way in and found a lot of women in the same situation. It seems almost every woman who visits the mosque didn’t get the memo to cover from head to toe in loose fitting clothing. It doesn’t cost anything to borrow one, but you do need some form of official I.D (passport, driver’s licence, etc.) to borrow one. Sarah was given an Abaya that was way too long, and when she asked for a shorter one they claimed not to have any, despite the fact we’d seen plenty on our way in. So we tied it up with her scarf, hoping this didn’t break any rules, and off we went (for men who wear shorts or sleevless tops, Kandura’s are available to cover up).
Now, despite not believing in a God, I respect the dress code and any other rules and regulations of a place of worship that I visit. When Rihanna visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque she posed for photos in ways that contravened the rules and regulations so was asked to leave. The subsequent press release for the mosque said when people do something that isn’t in line with their expectations “…the violators are directed in a polite manner that reflects the civilisational and tolerant attributes of Islam. Usually, the visitors are appreciative of that.” I have no problem with that under normal circumstances, but the temperature is extremely hot during the summer months, and women are forced to wear a polyester black Abaya covering their whole body, including a hood to cover their head. In my humble opinion that’s not showing too much tolerance to the needs of women, especially when men are allowed to stroll around in a t-shirt.
The shear beauty of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is breathtaking. It rivals any building in the world and it’s easy to see why it was voted second on Trip Advisor’s list of the world’s top 25 tourist attractions. Only bettered by Peru’s Machu Picchu, around 4.5 million people visited the mosque last year, and we’re so glad we made the journey. It’s so clean, and the magnificence of the white walls and walkways is almost blinding, particularly with the glare of the sun. The mosque is surrounded by reflective crystal clear water pools, adding to the majesty. Here are some of the amazing facts about the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque:
- It features 82 white marble domes, more than 1,000 columns outside the main prayer hall, and another 96 columns inside.
- The main prayer hall features the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet, some 5,700 square metres made from 30 tonnes of wool, 15 tonnes of cotton and 5 billion knots handcrafted by 1,300 artisans!
- The main prayer hall also has the world’s largest chandelier, the 10-metre in diameter and 15-metre high creation featuring Swarovski crystals and Italian glass weighs in at 12-tonnes.
- The mosque is large enough to accommodate 40,000 worshippers at once, including 9,000 in the main prayer room itself.
This place is massive, and it’s a modern marvel that something as grand and beautiful as this can be built at all. What is even more remarkable is the fact it’s only the eighth biggest mosque in the world. The other seven must be absolutely massive, although I doubt any of them compare to the magnificence of this one.
As soon as we walked into the exterior walkway of the mosque the security guards were onto us. It was a little windy and Sarah’s hood kept blowing off. Each time it came off, or even moved back on her head just a few centimetres, a security guard was there to tell her to put her hood back on properly before she’d even had a chance to fix it herself. To say it was overzealous would be an understatement given the speed of the rebuke, and the fact we couldn’t do much about the wind!
The fun police were onto us again when we had our photo taken on the exterior walkway. I was holding Jack in one arm with my other arm around Sarah. Over rushed a security guard to ensure I wasn’t actually touching my own wife at the mosque, oh no, we can’t possibly have any of that. So we stood there like statues while we had our photo taken, as I wondered whether smiling would constitute a third strike and we’d be asked to leave like Rihanna was!
We made our way into the main prayer hall and it was just as impressive as the outside, although the chandeliers, while spectacular, are a little ugly. The floral designs on the wall in the foyer are exquisite, the tiled patterns on the walls inside the hall are stunning, and the carpet has to be seen to be believed. While the
is clearly one of the world’s most beautiful buildings, its interior isn’t very impressive at all. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is easily the Taj Mahal’s equivalent on the outside, but inside it is head and shoulders above India’s number one tourist attraction.
For anyone visiting the UAE the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque should be your first port of call. You will be blown away by how spectacular it is, but just remember, there are certain dress standards you must adhere to. So if you don’t want to wear a polyester black Abaya in the middle of summer (or a cooler, lighter white Kandura for the men), make sure you take note of the rules and restrictions below.
Saturday – Thursday: 9.00am – 10.00pm (9.00am – 2.00pm during Ramadan)
Friday: 4.30pm – 10.00pm (closed during Ramadan)
FREE GUIDED TOURS
Sunday – Thursday: 10.00am, 11.00am and 5.00pm
Friday: 5.00pm and 7.00pm
Saturday: 10.00am, 11.00am, 2.00pm, 5,00pm and 7.00pm
Women – Long, loose fitting, ankle and wrist length clothing, including a hood or headscarf. Abaya’s are available free of charge for those who don’t wear the appropriate clothing, however you’ll need an official form of identification like a passport or driver’s licence.
Men – Long, loose fitting ankle length trousers. A short sleeve shirt or t-shirt is fine. A Kandura is available for those who wear shorts or a sleeveless top, and similar identification tot he women is required.