When you travel to major cities, you might not even realize it but you are likely to almost always step into some sort of religious house or place of worship. The majority of cultural landmarks for curious world travelers like me are often religious institutions. Think about walking through a famed Italian city (i.e., Rome) – you will likely stop to snap a photograph or step inside an ancient church flooded with tourists looking up in complete awe. While I was trekking through Thailand I found myself constantly amazed by different open-air temples and Buddhist offering sites near people’s homes. And while recently in the Middle East, I had the honor to visit one of the largest and most beautiful mosques in the world – the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque located in Abu Dhabi.
No matter what religion you practice or what spiritual beliefs you hold true, exploring different religions through travel can be eye-opening and perspective changing. One of the best pieces of advice my late father taught me was to always strive to “understand before being understood.” People often make judgments about certain religions or even generalizations based off the wrong information. By trying to dive deep and fully understand the most practiced religions of a certain region, I have found beauty in the diverse ways we can worship.
Believing in something, whatever that may be, is ultimately all that matters. Through challenges and losses, the only tool to help us persevere through even the worst of storms is believing and hoping for what we need in that moment – this is the essence of spirituality – believing and hoping. One’s spirituality makes them more equipped to handle adversity. I have personally found that by opening my mind to new religions and types of beliefs, my own spirituality has been further strengthened. Through seeing people around the world praying, chanting, singing or believing in something is empowering as a spiritual person. When I see others engaged in worship (regardless of the religion), I am reminded that I am not alone in believing in something – whatever that something is, it strengthens my soul and probably theirs too. No matter where I find myself in the world, I feel connected to others through this idea .
Below I am sharing personal glimpses through my tour of the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Along with these photographs, you will find a few fun facts about this glorious place of worship. Scroll to the bottom of this post for a Ladyhattan Guide highlighting important information and tips for your next visit to this religious landmark.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the largest mosques in the world and can accommodate up to 50,000 worshipers.
Different building materials were sourced from many countries like Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Germany, Austria, New Zealand China, India, and Pakistan.
The construction of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque began in 1996. It took more than 3,000 workers and 38 contracting companies to construct the mosque.
The total cost to create this landmark and place of worship was $545 Million.
In 2013, Rihanna received negative criticism for taking scandalous photographs during a private visit at the mosque. During the incident she was reported to have posed in a manner deemed offensive and provocative. Staff asked her to leave following the incident.
The main prayer hall is glittery and glowing with all the pearls, diamonds and crystals you could ever dream of. The 96 columns in the main prayer hall are clad with marble and inlaid with mother of pearl. And pictured below, the biggest chandelier inside this prayer hall is one of the largest in the world, weighing in at approximately 12 tons. It measures 49 feet high (15 meters) and 33 feet wide (10 meters).
Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque was named after the founding father and the first president of UAE – late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. His final resting place is located beside the mosque.
The Grand Mosque’s main prayer hall contains the world’s largest carpet, covering over 60,000 sq. feet (5,700 sq. meters). This beautiful hand-knotted carpet with an intricate Islamic medallion design was made in Iran by 1,200 woman artisans. The design took around 8 months and the carpet creation (knotting) took a full year. It has over 2 billion knots.
LADYHATTAN’S GUIDE TO THE GRAND MOSQUE
- The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque stands out as one of the world’s largest mosques, and the only one that captures unique interactions between Islam and world cultures.
- Sheikh Zayed’s vision for the Grand Mosque was to incorporate architectural styles from different Muslim civilizations and celebrate cultural diversity by creating a haven that is truly diverse and inspirational in its foundation.
- The open-door policy invites tourists and celebrants from all around the world who can witness the spectacular onion-top domes, the reflective pools that engulf the courtyard and the iconic prayer hall, which not only overflows with blissful sunlight, but also houses the world’s biggest chandelier and carpet, both meticulously handmade.
- General visiting times are Saturday-Thursday 9am to 10pm. The mosque is closed to tourists (but open to worshippers) on Friday mornings. It reopens for tourists after 4.30pm. Note that during the month of Ramadan visiting hours are from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.with the mosque closed all day Friday.
- There is no fee to enter the mosque.
- There are strict dress codes which must be adhered to for you to visit the mosque (conservative – women must cover their skin and hair completely). Show respect by arriving dressed accordingly. I recommend shopping earlier in the day at the markets to purchase your own beautiful Abaya to wear during your visit to the mosque.
- Women can borrow a plain blue Abaya (robe) that you can borrow if you’re not dressed appropriately.
- No shoes are allowed inside – you must go barefoot.
- Displays of affection, including kissing and touching between men and women are forbidden.
- Follow the paths around the perimeter of the space and be sure to make it inside to see the world’s largest chandelier (it is stunning).
- For the best photographs, I recommend visiting early in the morning or right at dusk before the sun sets – I visited during both of those times and the lighting was magical.
- The Ritz Carlton Abu Dhabi is the closest hotel to the Grand Mosque, located directly across the street. They offer a complimentary shuttle during tour times to the mosque. If you are staying at the hotel, this is by far the most convenient way to visit. Alternatively, if you are not staying at the Ritz, I suggest stopping there first for a happy-hour cocktail, then taking a 4 minute cab across the street to see the mosque at dusk/before sunset.