The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque rises amidst the desert sands, visible from each of the bridges connecting Abu Dhabi to the mainland. Standing tall in its architectural majesty, the mosque is one of the largest in the world, seating more than 40,000 worshipers.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi was initiated by the late UAE President and Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan. In fact, the first ceremony in the mosque was his funeral service. His mausoleum was also built on the premises. However, visitors and photography are both prohibited near the mausoleum (the rest of the premises are open). There are rumors that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is considered as the Protector of the Holy Cities, isn’t in agreement with Abu Dhabi’s choice of Al Nahyan’s resting place. In Islam, mosques and mausoleums are supposed to be in separate places. In other words, you cannot have a burial place or tomb on the prayer grounds.
Architecture and Design
The sheer scale of architectural creativity and genius in the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is staggering. The mosque’s design draws its influences from Persian, Mughal, Ottoman, Fatimid and Moorish elements, such as the Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque in Egypt, and the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan. Artisans and materials traveled from many countries, such as India, Turkey, Iran, Morocco, Malaysia, New Zealand, China and the Republic of Macedonia.
The Italian company Impregilo built the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque using many natural materials such as gold, crystals, ceramics, marble and semi-precious stones. More than 100,000 tons of pure white Greek and Macedonian marble were shipped to Abu Dhabi. Intricate floral designs reflect specks of light, bouncing off lapis, red agate, amethyst, jasper, lazuli and mother-of-pearl. The 96 columns in the main prayer hall are one of the few examples of workmanship, where marble is inlaid with mother-of-pearl.
Overall, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has 82 domes, over a 1,000 columns, and four 107 meter high minarets. The courtyard measures around 17,000 square meters, and is regarded as one of world’s largest examples of marble mosaic. The stunning white and gold colors take on a life of their own at night with the help of a special lighting system that reflects the phases of the moon.
The ceilings of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque have steel, brass, crystal and gold chandeliers hanging from them. The largest of them adorns the main prayer hall, and is made completely of Swarovski crystals and 40 kilograms worth of 24-karat galvanized gold. Measuring 10 meters in diameter, 15 meters in height and weighing twelve tonnes, it is one of the world’s largest chandeliers.
One of the most impressive furnishings of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the loomed carpet in its main prayer hall, which had to be flown in two aeroplanes from Mashad, Iran to Abu Dhabi. Made from Iranian cotton and New Zealand wool, the medallion embroidery with arabesque motifs took 1,200 craftsmen two years to complete. It consists of 268 million hand-woven knots, making it the largest loomed carpet in the world.
The Qibla wall in the main prayer hall is another highlight of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The wall features 99 names, qualities or attributes of Allah. Created by UAE calligrapher Mohammed Mandi Al Tamimi, the Qibla wall has fiber-optic lighting to subtly highlight the traditional Kufic calligraphy. Other parts of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque make use of three Islamic calligraphy scripts- Naskh, Thuluth and Kufic.
The library is located in the north-east minaret of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It houses rare publications, artworks, coins, calligraphy and sciences in a broad range of languages such as Arabic, French, German and Korean, reflective of the diversity of the Islamic world.
There is a dress code enforced on the premises of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Shoes have to be taken off. Men are expected to wear long trousers with long-sleeved or short-sleeved shirts. Cut offs, tanks or shorts are not allowed. Women are expected to cover their hair, wear long skirts or long trousers with long-sleeved tops. Tight fitting, short and revealing outfits are not allowed.
Visitors and tourists whose attire does not adhere to the dress code will be given black abayas (loose flowing black cloak for women) and white khanduras (ankle length white kaftan for men) to wear free of cost. Before leaving, one has to return the khanduras and abayas.
Unlike other mosques in Abu Dhabi and the rest of the region, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is open everyday to visitors, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Friday mornings are the only exception, where the mosque is open only to worshipers.
- Saturday to Thursday: 9am-10pm (last entry 9:30pm)
- Fridays: 4:30pm-10pm
Complimentary one hour guided tours are also available.
- Sunday-Thursday: 10am, 11am and 5pm
- Friday: 5pm and 7pm
- Saturday: 10am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm and 7pm
In May 2017, TripAdvisor announced the winners of its Travelers’ Choice Awards for Landmarks, commemorating 706 landmarks in 82 countries. For the second year in a row, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi was voted the world’s second favorite landmark, being surpassed only by Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
In 2016, the total number of visitors to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque reached 5,209,801, of which 1,448,394 were worshipers, 2,807,556 were visitors, and 872,070 were Ramadan Iftar guests.