A Place of Worship

Now, in the middle of Ramadan, the summer heat, haze, and dust effectively erase the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque from the horizon, where, on a clear day, I can see its four 350 foot minarets piercing the sky from my bedroom window, and although it is only a tiny speck on the horizon, I revel in the thought that I have a view of what is perhaps Abu Dhabi’s most famous landmark. Designed by Syrian architect Yousef Abdelky, and built on a slight elevation so that it is prominent and visible from afar, it plays a central role in the religious life of the city, especially during the fasting month of Ramadan. Thousands of Muslims flock here to break their fast at the end of each day, or to participate in the night prayers ofΒ taraweeh or tahajjud, unique to Ramadan, and considered to be a special blessing.

The traditional Islamic design principles of symmetry and repetition, used in the design and construction of the mosque, are further enhanced by an intricate dance of light and shadow to accentuate different features. Lighting architects Speirs and Major‘s clever use of lighting technology make the building come to life in many subtle ways, inside and out. Especially significant and spectacular is how the building is lit at night to reflect and mimic the moon cycle, and so, as the moon waxes and wanes the outside appearance of the mosque changes. On a full moon night it is lit with pure white light, while it shifts through a range of blue hues as the moon wanes, until a deep blue denotes the darkness of a moonless night. To create a textural quality to the lighting it mimics wispy clouds slowly drifting through the sky, from the direction of Mecca, in front of the moon. With 82 domes and clad entirely in white marble, it forms the perfect canvas for the designers’ imagination, and is a breathtaking sight.

Interesting Facts:

  • The mosque is not only named after, but is also the last resting place of Sheikh Zayed, who is lovingly referred to as the Father of the Nation. His mausoleum can be found on the north side of the mosque, but please note that no photography of it is allowed.
  • Designed by Syrian architect Yousef Abdelky, design work begun as early as the mid 1980s.
  • 347,895 worshippers have visited the mosque during the first 10 days of Ramadan (2016), and to accommodate everyone, twelve air-conditioned tents, each able to accommodate 1,500 people, have been erected in the courtyard.
  • The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the third largest in the world.
  • During taraweeh prayer long portions of the Qur’an is recited night after night. For this purpose the Qur’an is divided into sections of equal length so that a complete reading of the Holy Book is possible during the month of Ramadan. Taraweeh prayers take place at the mosque after Isha prayers, the last prayer of the day.
  • Tahajjud prayers, or Salatul-layl are also referred to as The Night Vigil Prayer, and takes place between Isha and Fajr prayers (the last prayer of the day and the first prayer of the next day). Some say that one should sleep for a while, before waking for this prayer, which then puts it ideally after midnight.

Visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque’s website for more facts, information, and visiting hours.

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