Different faiths have different manifestations of their beliefs and image of the higher being, and the places of worship are using awesome. Islam does not allow representation of any human or animal forms, so mosques are decorated with amazing patterns and art. This trip to Abu Dhabi, we get to see one of the finest example of Islamic architecture – Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
- Islamic Art
- Sahan (The Courtyard)
- Main Prayer Hall
- Reflective Pools
- Gardens & Fountains
- Lunar Illumination
- Things to Note for a Visit
One of the largest mosques in the world, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (SZGM) in Abu Dhabi was completed in 2007. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the worlds splendid iconic architectural wonders that highlights the tolerant nature of the Islamic culture and promotes cross- cultural communication amongst different cultures, successfully positioning itself as a leading destination on the world’s tourism map that attracts millions of visitors from all cultures and regions around the globe.
This mosque bears the name of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, one of the seven founding father of the UAE and late Emir of Abu Dhabi. He wanted to build a mosque that reflects the message and values of the UAE, namely tolerance, coexistence, and peace. The mosque›s construction phase began in 1996 and ended in 2007. It took 11 years to build the mosque
As a testament to the vision of its founder, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque sits majestically at the entrance to Abu Dhabi City Island, distinctly visible from the three main bridges connecting the island to the main land. The strategic geographical location of the Mosque is a symbolic expression of the emotional connection the Mosque has in the hearts of all UAE citizens particularly because the burial place of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, first President of the UAE, is located beside the mosque.
An exemplary model of Islamic architecture, intricately blending various Islamic architectural styles from different civilizations across history to create a captivating architectural masterpiece that vividly illustrates notions of dialogue amongst cultures, and that was able to secure its position as one of the world’s top cultural destinations for consecutive years.
Every artistic design element was carefully considered and fits into the overall vision of the Mosque. Some key contributions to Islamic art found in the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque:
* Combining Mamluk, Ottoman and Fatimid styles, the design of the minarets fuse the wide and diverse Islamic world into one summation of art and beauty.
* Developing the art of ornamentation thorough using multi-coloured marble to create unprecedented artistic forums with the help of natural colours in addition to the development of sophisticated techniques associated with the decoration of crowned columns. The crowns are not located on the top of the columns but at the bottom. This extraordinary technique is innovative to Islamic architecture.
* Giving priority to the art of using colours to create original artistic forms. The colours of the walls, columns and the carpet are harmonized together transforming the entire Mosque into an artistic masterpiece and a symphony of colors and shades.
* Using modern techniques of artistic glass work; mosaic, carved and sand blasted glass displaying traditional Islamic designs of symmetry and repetition.
The pure white colour of the Mosque has become one of its most distinguishing characteristics. The late Sheikh Zayed was fond of the colour white, a symbol of purity and piety. The SZGM is cladded with numerous quantity of white marble on the external surfaces.
- Sivec from Prilep, North Macedonia was used on the external cladding (115,119 m2 (1,239,130 sq ft) of cladding has been used on the mosque, including the minarets)
- Lasa from Laas, South Tyrol, Italy was used in the internal elevations
- Makrana from Makrana, India (the same used for Taj Mahal) was used in the annexes and offices
- Acquabianca and Bianco P from Italy
- East White and Ming Green from China
There are 82 domes of various sizes and the largest is located in the centre of the main prayer hall. The design elements include pure white marble cladding; onion shaped ‘crowns’ and crescent shaped finials decorated with gold-glass mosaic. The elongated windows allow the natural light to enter the prayer halls.
The inside of the domes feature traditional Moroccan artwork which has been made from reinforced plaster called Glass Reinforced Gypsum (GRG). Encircling the inside of the domes are verses from the Holy Quran which are also molded from GRG and painted in gold colour.
Other domes are found on the grand gated entrance and other entrances. There are also fourteen green glass domes incorporated into the roof of the underground male and female ablution facilities. They are visible above ground and are an important feature of the Mosque’s Islamic garden design.
External Columns: The arcades of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque are flanking by thousands of columns, which are made of white marble panels, inlaid with precious and semi-precious stones such as lapis lazuli, red agate, amethyst, abalone shell and nacre.
Their overall design has been inspired from a valued tree throughout Arabia, the date palm. From the golden capitals (anodized aluminum coloyred with golden colour) which are in the shape of a palm treetop.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has 1096 columns around the arcade.
Each piece was hand-carved and inlaid by craftsmen here on site and they used a special inlay technique called “Pietra Dura” which began firstly in Italy 16th century and reached Mughals in the early 17th century, and perhaps the most exquisite example is the columns of “Taj Mahal” in India.
Internal Columns: 96 columns stand in groups of four contribute to the structural support for the three main domes. The columns in the main prayer hall are clad with white pure marble inlaid with mother-of-pearl vines. This work was completed mainly by hand in Dongguan, China.
Sahan (The Courtyard)
The courtyard (Sahan) is usually found in larger ‘Grand’ mosque structures. It is an open area, usually has a shape of square or rectangular. The courtyard is used by worshipers during significant Islamic prayers and large gatherings such as the holy month Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr (Feast of Breakfast) and Eid Al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice). The courtyard can accommodate up to 31000 worshipers and the area is approximately 17400 square meters.
Many thousands of finest marble pieces make up the design including beautiful floral elements and mosaic. The designs were illustrated by British artist “Kevin Dean”.
The edges adorned using different types of flowers that grow in the Middle East such as Tulip, Lily and Iris.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has four minarets, each of which is around 106 meters high. The minaret has been the most significant component of Islamic architecture across the ages.
Each minaret is made-up of three different geometric shapes. The first is a square that forms the minaret’s base built according to the Arabic Moroccan architectural styles, as well as the Andalusian and the Mameluke styles. The second has an octagonal shape, which is a design that goes back to the Mameluke era. The third holds a cylindrical shape, which emerged during the Ottoman era. The crowning lantern covered with gold-glass mosaic goes back to the Fatimid era.
The word “Minaret” derives from the Arabic word “Manarah”, meaning lighthouse, so it is fitting that the library, a source of knowledge and education, is uniquely located at the minaret. It is the only library to be found in a minaret.
Main Prayer Hall
The entire compound is large enough to accommodate over 40,100 worshippers, while the main prayer hall can hold over 7,000. There are two smaller prayer halls, with a capacity of 1,500 each, one of which is the women’s prayer hall.
The internal elevations of the main prayer hall feature traditional geometrical Islamic designs with a unique floral addition.
The foyer entrance’s organic floral designs embody a unifying message, reflecting the diversity and the connection between cultures.
The floral patterns were inspired by flowers that grow in the Middle East’s desert climate (United Arab Emirates). The North and South foyers are designed with flowers from the Northern hemisphere and Southern hemisphere. Whereas the beautiful colored marbles are brought from over 37 countries. Relief technique was used in the walls to present the flowers in 3D shapes.
The Clock of the Grand Mosque
At the top, the time indicates the Fajr prayer time, followed by Shoroug or sunrise moving clockwise, then the Dhuhr prayer and Ast prayer, and later the Maghrib prayer performed between sunset and darkness, and concluding with the Isha prayer that is performed after dark.
There are 11 clocks in the inner halls made in the United Kingdom and designed in the shape of a six-petaled flower made from stainless steel inlaid with pearls. In the center, the analog hands indicate the hour and minutes, while the digital panels indicate the prayer times.
The digital display at the top of the inner circle is the date according to the Gregorian calendar. In contrast, the digital display at the bottom is the date according to the Islamic or Hijri calendar.
The Qibla wall at the main prayer hall faces the Holy City of Makkah, which is the prayer direction (Qibla). It is cladded with Aquabianca and Bianco P marbles from Italy. The design features many five-sided flower shapes, each containing one of the ninety-nine most beautiful names or qualities of Allah as; The Merciful, The Gracious, The Patient as they are written using Kufic calligraphy. At the center of its design is a large circle, and The name written inside is Allah.
The Mihrab or Niche is an essential architectural element of a mosque and symmetrically located in the middle of the Qibla Wall. The yellow golden leaf-glass mosaic of the Niche seems to flow downwards from the ‘beehive’ feature at the top, as if it were a river of golden honey. The reason why the Niche is in a half circle shape is related to the pre-electronic times when it helped to project the imam’s voice so that the worshippers could hear him. The Niche is traditionally known as the place where the imam will stand to lead the worshippers.
The Minbar is located on the right of the Mihrab and includes 11 steps in allow the imam to sit in a clear location to address the large number of worshippers that Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque receives.
It features floral and shell designs which are made of carved cedar wood inlaid with mother of pearl, glass mosaic and white gold. It has a small dome shaped ‘roof’ and crescent finial at the top of the stairs.
The main prayer hall houses the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet. The intricate Islamic medallion design was made by third generation carpet maker and artist, Dr Ali Khaliqi. The predominantly wool carpet was hand-crafted by approximately 1,200 artisans.
Its creation was a two year project, the design took approximately 8 months, the knotting 12 months and the remaining time to transport, trim and weave the pieces together. The final single piece carpet is 5,700 square meters, about 70% being wool and the rest of 30% is cotton.
There are seven crystal chandeliers made by Faustig (Munich, Germany) situated inside the halls and foyers. The largest (located in the main prayer hall and considered one of the world’s largest in a mosque and is weighing approximately 12 tons.
Two smaller versions of the same design (located also in the main prayer hall) are weighing 8 tons each. Four blue coloured chandeliers of similar design and size are located in the foyer entrances surrounding the SZGM. The largest of them is weighing about 2 tons and located in the main foyer entrance.
All chandeliers are made from gilded stainless steel and gilded brass (approx. 40kg of 24 carat galvanized gold was used). Glass panels studded with Swarovski crystals were installed in all of them.
The mosque is surrounded by rectangular pools tiled in different shades of blue, which extend over 7874 m2. They reflect the mosque’s magnificent arcades and columns and become even more spectacular by the lighting at night.
Gardens & Fountains
Islamic architecture in mosques is characterised by the gardens surrounding the mosques, in addition to the fountains, so we see the gardens of the mosque with their fruit trees and ornamental plants shady and carefully paved amid a network of water fountains and a network of overlapping arches with splendor and perfection.
Lighting designers from UK consultancy Speirs + Major were the masterminds behind its interior and exterior lighting design, the same company that was behind the lighting installations for Burj Khalifa, the world’s largest tower. The unique lightning system was designed to reflect the phases of the moon. There are twenty-two light towers consisting of an efficient number of light projectors to achieve this creative effect.
Soft undulating clouds of a bluish gray colour are projected onto the white marble external surfaces of the mosque including the façade and domes. Each day appears a little different from the next as the lighting cycle commences with darker clouds when the month is in its early stages and the moon is a small crescent. As the moon progresses through its cycle and becomes full, so does the lightning effect become more brilliant.
Things to Note for a Visit
There’s many ways to get there – Uber, public transport, join a tour – but in all cases, you will end up at the Visitor Centre as the first stop. This is not the tourist trap; unless you are a state visitor or a worshipper, you do not enter the mosque from their main foyer. Visitors would have to walk through the Tolerance Path. Do remember the following.
- Go to their website to pre-register for the visit; the visit is free.
- This is a place of worship, stay reverent and observe your behaviours.
- Ladies need to cover your hair; Everyone has to dress appropriately – Sunday’s best would always work – you have to cover up.
- If you do not respect the religion, this is not the place to visit. Go to Ferrari World.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street، – 5th St – Abu Dhabi
Visited Nov 2022
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