The highlight of any trip to Abu Dhabi, and maybe to U.A.E. in total, is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This is the largest mosque in the world. It is larger and perhaps more impressive than either St. Peter’s Basilica or the Taj Mahal.
Both the exterior and interior of the mosque are amazing. Most of the space is open to tourists, with only the prayer areas closed off so Muslims can practice their religious rites in private.
Surprisingly, it’s not an ancient building like the Taj Mahal (built in 1653) or St. Peter’s (1626). It was completed in 2007! The mosque is named for the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, who wanted to show unification of Islamic culture through architecture, art, and spirituality. The structure also used building materials sourced from numerous countries, again showing unification rather than isolationism.
On each side of the inner courtyard is a long corridor.
One corridor is for men and one for women. A guard very politely redirected Michael when he wandered into the wrong corridor.
Although women are not required to wear clothing to cover their hair and ankles in general in U.A.E., inside the mosque they are. Men too have to cover their legs.
Fortunately, black abayas (cloaks) and shaylas (headscarves) are available for women to borrow and white dishdashes (cloaks) for men who show up in shorts. My scarf was adequate when worn over my head even though it wasn’t black.
We saw Islamic women wearing abaya and shayla (not always black), niqab (black cloak and veil with open slits for eyes), and full burka (black head to toe, eyes behind a black veil).
Visitors are also required to remove their shoes before entering the interior of the mosque. This was quite pleasant, since the path through was on a plush carpet.
There was so much to see, every detail exquisite.
We visited during the day and stayed on into the evening.
The whole place was so strikingly beautiful it was difficult to leave.