The grandeur of a mosque
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As darkness falls marking the time for the evening prayer, Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque welcomes worshippers into a pool of light.
Though many days are left for the final week of Ramadan when mosques worldwide are filled as at no other time of the year, thousands are already beating a path to the vast courtyard and marble halls of the UAE’s Grand Mosque. They walk briskly through the mosque grounds, equal in size to roughly five football fields, towards the collection of domes and minarets glowing softly at their centre.
Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque first opened to the public in 2007, following 11 years of construction. The site of worship was the dream of its namesake, Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who initiated the project during his rule yet did not live to see its completion. After his demise in Ramadan of 2004, the mosque committed to honour Shaikh Zayed through activities reflecting the leader’s generosity and engagement with the community, says Yousif Alobaidli, director of the Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center (SZGMC). “Since the passing (away) of the UAE’s founding father, Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque has been offering the Ramadan Iftar programme, which is done for the Soul of His Highness,” he says, describing the project that has been managed by the SZGMC since 2008.
“Since the mosque opened, the SZGMC has been managing the mosque not just as a place where people come to pray and worship but also establishing it as a respected Islamic cultural centre,” he explains. “Various educational and cultural programmes have been created to promote understanding and coexistence between cultures, such as our daily visitor tours.”
Thus, many of the 3.3 million who come to the Grand Mosque to admire its architecture and decor are also gifted with some understanding of the Islamic heritage that inspired the edifice. In addition to the more dramatic features such as the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet and the biggest chandelier to hang in a mosque, the mosque’s tour guides draw attention to its subtler elements — the ceramic Iznik panels originating from Turkey, the different styles of calligraphy adorning the walls. Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque has taken materials and inspiration from all over the world and, in return, invites the world to come and take pleasure in its beauty.
Inside the packed halls, which account for 10,000 of the mosque’s nearly 41,000 capacity, and out in the courtyard, worshippers stand with their heads bowed to the magnificence surrounding them. They become a part of it. These visitors are bound together in the single, melodious voice echoing throughout the structure, sharing in the Grand Mosque’s spirit of community, reverence and illumination.
Ramadan at the mosqueThis Ramadan, the Grand Mosque will be open to all visitors from 9am to 12pm, Saturday through Thursday, with guided at tours at 10am and 11am.
Although the mosque’s parking has been extended to 4,000 spaces, a free shuttle service is available from Zayed Sports City, offering an additional 2,500 spots.
Public buses travelling to the mosque can be boarded for free during the holy month.
Every day, the mosque serves iftar meals provided by the Armed Forces Officers Club in 12 tents set up on its grounds, each having a capacity of 1,500. Some of these tents are dedicated exclusively to female visitors.
This year’s Tarawih prayers are being offered by renowned imams Mishary Al Afasy (the first 10 days of Ramadan), Idrees Abkar (the second 10 days), and Abdulwali Al-Arkani (the final 10 days). The mosque courtyard has been laid out with carpets and cooling systems for the worshippers’ comfort.