Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Finally, I am getting around to posting pictures from our trip a couple weeks ago to visit the stunningly beautiful Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque. As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words so I won't sully the images by blathering on. Suffice it to say it is extraordinary. I think the mosque is either the second or third largest in the world, and the central courtyard can hold thousands of worshippers.

Here are a couple pictures of the Remnants, who were still fairly new to each other at the time. The mosque is very welcoming to non-Muslims. Most Islamic countries usually have one mosque which is open to the folks of other faiths, and this is the case with the Shaikh Zayed Mosque (named in honor of the country's founder). Women have to cover their hair, as is the case with all mosques, but this one takes it a step further and asks you to don an abaya if you are showing too much skin. Liane is a very experienced traveller and was dressed very conservatively, but there are clearly differences in the definition of conservative between New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates. I liked the fact that in this mosque if men were dressed inappropirately they were asked to put on a traditional dishdash.

There were several things which I found really amazing. One was the central courtyard, and not simply because it was so huge. The marble was almost unnaturally cool to the touch, which is a great gift considering that it is so hot in the Emirates and all worshippers must kneel on the ground. Most of the surfaces were decorated with designs formed by inlaid stones, which was much like the Taj Mahal. The mosque has the largest handwoven carpet in the world, and if you look closely at the carpet you can see the lines that are included to help the worshippers who are inside line up correctly. The use of nature themes is very common in Islamic iconography because of the prohibition on the representation of the human form. The chandeliers are some of the world's largest, if not the largest. Around to the back in a quite corner is the actual tomb of the beloved Sheikh Zayed. It is very simple and wonderfully understated, and almost reminds me of the even smaller tomb of the Mughal ruler Aurengzeb in India. It is a beautiful mosque and a must see for anyone visiting Abu Dhabi.

It also reminded me of my first trip to Jordan and my visit to the King Abdullah Mosque there with the most amazing group of friends. It immediately made me think of my great friend Faith (or Fa'Ith) from Kansas City, who, popping up much like a jinn, contacted me out of the blue shortly thereafter (which was a remarkably pleasant surprise).

Being both very spiritual and more than a bit of a pantheist, I tend to have very moving experiences in all sorts of places, both inside of mosques/temples/cathedrals and out. That said, I have a very special place in my heart for mosques. While the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is pretty ornate, it still has, at its heart, a simplicity that really appeals to me. As we were leaving I made my way out to the center of the massive courtyard and just soaked it all in.

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