As the largest mosque in the UAE, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has a number of other superlatives attached to it. Completed in 2007 after eleven years of construction, it has the world's largest handmade carpet, the second largest chandelier inside a mosque, and it is considered to be the most expensive mosque ever built. All this combined with free admission and long visiting hours has made this place of worship a must-see tourist attraction.
We've travelled extensively and have seen a lot of amazing sights, but I have to admit this was right up there in terms of impressiveness. Word of warning though, if you are looking for a quiet place of worship this probably isn't the place for you, and heading down into the depths of the underground car park to pick up an abaya you will spend the duration of your time at the mosque sweating in while men stroll around in three quarter pants and t-shirts is pretty annoying. It is possible for women to avoid the abaya by being covered to the wrists and ankles but this is strictly enforced at this mosque so dress carefully. Look past these issues though and you'll have an amazing experience. Take some time before and after actually going into the mosque to admire it as a whole from afar. You can do that from the parking lot, but we found the best spot to take it all in (and snap some awesome shots) to be from the overpass leading from the Ritz Carlton to the mosque. It was especially awe-inspiring at sunset with the white mosque and its 82 domes constantly changing colours to reflect the colours of the sky and, later on, the mosque's lights.
When you finally pull yourself away to go inside, you will find the path everyone must follow clearly marked. It's quite good because the way it is set up once you get out of the main arches and entrances it is easy to get gorgeous pictures that don't have the crowds of tourists in them because large areas are blocked off so people can see but not walk there. The first thing you will notice once in the main prayer hall are the chandeliers. They are not to everyone's taste and have been dubbed the world's most expensive disco balls by some, but they are a sight to behold.
As you walk through, you may notice there are no images of people or animals. That's because it's forbidden in Islam as it is feared having such images in a place of worship may promote idolatry, so in order to not break this rule and still make a mosque ornate several motifs are used. The first is geometry, used to create intricate patterns. At times deliberate mistakes in repetition may be made to illustrate the imperfection of the artist - only Allah is perfect. The second motif used to decorate mosques is calligraphy, with verses, often from the Koran, written in Arabic script. The final motif is flowers. Many of the floral patterns used also use geometry to create extremely complex and beautiful patterns. All three of these motifs can be found in Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, combining beautifully to create a feast for the eyes.
The UAE is a place where ultramodern buildings are ubiquitous; however, the Grand Mosque seems to me to have struck a striking balance between modern and traditional. It is an excellent reminder of the important place tradition holds in mankind's quest to compete to build the biggest, tallest and the best.