A Grand Place of Worship: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Grand Mosque, a view from inside the courtyard.Columns in the Mosque

(I understand the title’s redundancy. And I want to emphasize how “Grand” it really is.)

Extravagant. That is probably the most suitable word to describe this very iconic place of worship for our Muslims friends. This is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

1710s2A View of the Courtyard through the decorative glass window

It was already the 4th week of June, 2011 when we decided to beat the impending summer heat and pay a visit.

We went there late in the afternoon to purposely miss the peak (reaching 40+ degrees of sunkiss). I was a bit worried of getting there a bit late and missing the opportunity of going in because of it being “closed”, especially that it was a Friday (day of worhsip). And apart from that, I was wearing a sleeveless top, and I fear that it wasn’t allowed and I won’t be able to go inside.

My worries were gone upon learning that it was closed on daytime at Fridays and it’s open again by 4:30pm. I didn’t research prior and sort of relied to my friends so I guess my worries were uncalled for.


As we arrived, we went straight ahead to the main entrance and were required (the ladies, atleast) to wear the traditional Muslim clothing which is an abaya and a hijab (cloak and head scarf, respectively) to cover our head and body. Thank goodness that they provide it for visitors to borrow before entering the mosque proper (newly washed and free of charge!– yes, once it’s “used”, you immediately put it in the bin)!

This type of clothing is normally worn in Islamic countries to display modesty and so as not to attract men. Other countries in the Gulf Region (e.g. Saudi Arabia) implements this attire strictly, while in UAE, specifically in the “more modern” emirates: Abu Dhabi and Dubai, it is somehow worn by some as a “part of the tradition” (and by that, I mean, not required anymore).

I think it was my second time to wear an abaya, the first was probably when I fitted the one which belongs to my cousin.

Men aren’t required to change into a kandura (thawb/robe) unless they’re wearing shorts.

We were also asked to leave our footwear outside the premises before entering the prayer halls.

1703s2Me and my friends in traditional Muslim clothing (Photo by Rowelle Abaleta)

Visiting this mosque is really overwhelming. It’s like extravagance overload. You could tell that this was something made out of so much wealth, brains, and perspiration all at the same time.

To be more specific, it was constructed through the help of 38 contractors, more than 3,000 workers, costing roughly US$ 545M, and materials coming from different countries, both precious and semi-precious stones. It’s a combination of different styles of craftsmanship which are elaborated in every side, corner, and face of the mosque. Describing it is exhausting because you could then run out of words that relate to “extravagant” as it becomes redundant easily.

1704s2Columns in the Mosque

1705s2Entrance to the Main Prayer Hall

1706s2Floral Designs from the floor to the walls

1707s2Very Intricate Floral Design at the wall which are embossed

What I’ve instantly noticed are the stone carvings, inlays, glass mosaic and Islamic phrases/words (that I don’t really understand) across the interior walls. Gold (yellow), marble, mother of pearl, and chandeliers with crystals are also found here, to name a few.

And of course, I can’t forget that the prayer halls are all carpeted. Imagine the amount of time needed to vacuum it! And how often do they actually clean it? Daily? Weekly?

1708s2Inside the main Prayer Hall where there’s no “under-designed” space (the columns, the walls, even the carpets are at par with the standards of extravagance).

1709s299 Names (Qualities) of God (Allah) are written on the wall.

1722s2The Pulpit (Menbar) where the imam (priest) would sit to address the worshipers during prayer. This Pulpit is carved wood inlaid with mother of pearl.

1720s2The ceiling, the walls, the  columns, the carpet. Simplicity is unidentifiable inside the mosque. Extravagance at its finest.

1721s2One of the 7 crystal chandeliers imported from Germany

The mosque could hold around 10000 worshipers inside the prayer halls (7000 for the main hall, 1500 for each of the two smaller halls wherein one is allocated for the women), and atleast 30000 worshipers at the courtyard. Yes, that’s atleast 40000 worshipers. You could just imagine how it could be filled especially on their Worship Day (friday) and Eid celebrations.

1711s2Huge Courtyard, and one of the four Minarets, the floor also has a lot of floral designs

1712s2Intricate floral designs in the exterior wall of the  mosque

1713s2A view of the wall.

Now that I think about it, I can’t help but compare its design to the Taj Mahal (although I am a bit biased with the Taj because of the love story behind it). Knowing that the grand mosque was inspired by Mughal architecture, then no wonder. 🙂

1714s2Almost the Taj Mahal look-alike (atleast for me).

1715s2One of the four minarets.

1717s2The Grand Mosque at night. The bluish illuminations varies, depending on the moonlight.

1718s2Lights that border the mosque outside.

We stayed there for a good 4 hours (until 9pm). As I look back, I can’t believe that we spent so much time in a mosque! But then I realized that taking pictures in almost every corner and our chitchat probably took most of our time.

1719s2Our group photo before leaving the mosque (Photo by Rowelle Abaleta)

It is no surprise to me that Abu Dhabi can build something as Grand as the Grand Mosque. They’ve got all the means, and especially nowadays that UAE is booming in terms of tourism, they have to showcase the most of what they have (and if they don’t have it yet, they can build!).

Although there’s a preconceived notion about the extravagant lifestyle in the UAE (again, with my use of the word “extravagant”), what others might not now is that the Muslims in this region are very dedicated to their religion and are very disciplined when it comes to their prayers. They pray atleast 5 times a day and once “it is time” to pray, they excuse themselves from whatever they’re doing (whether be at work, at home, or even while on the road), to stop and visit the nearest mosque and pray for a few minutes. Others don’t even reach the mosque on time. You’d find some of them at the highway in Sharjah (along National Paints) and pray on the side walk of the street because they know they won’t reach the mosque on time due to heavy traffic. They even wake up at wee hours just to pray. That’s how religious they are.

And even if I have a different religion, what I admire about them other than their discipline (atleast the people I personally know who “represents”) is how they try to practice what they preach in terms of values. I have a few concerns on the others (that I observe and don’t know personally), but that’s another story.

Anyway, point is, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is just like any other mosque, a place of worship and prayer. A place of religion and mutual respect. A place of equality for those who submit themselves to their beliefs. It just so happened that this mosque, is worth a lot monetarily and yes, a place of beauty and inspiration as envisioned by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Until then! x

1723s2A photo of me (by Rowelle Abaleta)

Quick Tips:

1. There’s a free guided tour inside the mosque.

If you’re a small group (less that 8), you have to arrive 15 minutes before the start of the scheduled tour in order to join the group. The tour usually lasts about 45 minutes.

If you’re a bigger group (8+), you would need to book the tour in advance.

In my experience, it is informative in explaining the vision, architecture and construction of the mosque. The guide will also tell you about the basic Muslim teachings and the traditional things that they usual do. It’s also interactive, as you could ask questions if necessary.

2. The mosque is open every day of the week. However, their opening time varies.

On Fridays (worship day), it is closed for the whole day and opens by 4:30 pm. During prayer times, it closes again and re-opens for the rest of the day and closes by 9:45 pm.

From Saturday to Thursday, it is opened from 9am until 9:45 pm. During prayer times, it closes again and re-opens after it.

3. For the details of the Tour Schedule and the Visiting Times, visit their site here.

Reading Source: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center

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6 thoughts on “A Grand Place of Worship: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

  1. Wow! Not sure any other words are necessary.

  2. Whoa! It is more opulent than some of the palaces I’ve seen!

    1. It really is! And clearly, they really want to be the grandest in any/every aspect as well e.g. biggest use of marble etc (although they can’t beat the one in Mecca coz it isn’t allowed).

  3. So beautiful. I look forward to visiting Abu Dhabi in the near future! Thanks for sharing your travels online, I think more like-minded people need to start doing so.

    1. Indeed it is! It’s one of the most beautiful and grandest mosque that I’ve ever seen.

      Thank you for the nice words Chiara!

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