This splendid mosque named after Sheik Zayed, co-founder and first president of the United Arab Emirates, is Abu Dhabi’s national symbol. It is the UAE’s largest mosque and the eighth-largest in the world. This imposing structure is a must-see on any Abu Dhabi itinerary.
After already having been deeply impressed by Oman’s Sultan Qaboos Mosque in Muscat, it was a no-brainer that we had to see this one while in Abu Dhabi!
Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, whose name the mosque bears, commissioned its construction before his death. The locals frequently just call it the “Grand Mosque”.
The sheikh gave the architects and contractors specific directions on how the wanted the mosque’s look replicate paradise as described in the Koran.
Costly materials went into its construction, including 15 different kinds of marble and vast amounts of gold leaf.
The completed building was officially opened in 2007, after 11 years of construction.
According to Wikipedia, it cost USD 545 million to build, most of which came from the sheikh’s personal fortune.
The splendor of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque
The mosque trumps with the largest hand-knotted carpet and the biggest chandelier in the world.
It took more than a thousand Iranian carpet weavers 18 months to finish the 5,600 square meter carpet which weighs in at 35 tons.
The 12-ton chandelier measuring 10 meters across was fabricated in Munich, Germany. It is made of gilded bronze, stainless steel, and covered in thousands of multicolored Swarovski crystals arranged in flower motifs.
The main dome with its 33-meter diameter is another world record holder. The mosque has a total of 83 domes and more than 1,000 columns. Its four minarets rear 107 meters into the sky.
The mosque’s interior is dominated by lots of white marble and 24-karat leaf gold. The snowy white marble columns are decorated with colorful flowers and date palms. Jewels and varicolored stained glass windows complete the opulent design.
Regardless if one is a believer or not in this or any other god, this sacred site is absolutely mind-boggling! We in any event were blown away by it, spending a whole three hours in it.
The mosque has room for 40,000 Muslim believers, of which some 30,000 would gather in the open courtyard. The main hall is designed for 7,000 men, with women relegated to the smaller prayer halls allocated for 1,500 of the female faithful.
There is no entry charge for touring the mosque. And the guided tours are also provided free of charge.
Our recommendation is to visit the mosque in late afternoon around 3:30 p.m. At that time of day, you can still admire in all its brilliant whiteness.
However, the opportunities for the best photos come a little later when dusk falls and the blue hour sets in. You’ll also find there is more elbow room as darkness falls and visitor numbers dwindle.
Dress code and etiquette
Women in the Sheik Zayed Mosque must abide by the Muslim dress code: Hair and skin must be covered. Although I wore slacks and a long-sleeved blouse, at the entrance I was ushered into a giant dressing room where all women visitors are loaned a free abaya.
Men, too, are expected to dress appropriately. That means optimally trousers and a long-sleeved shirt. Definitely not with shoulders bared or wearing shorts.
Holding hands, kissing or other intimate gestures are prohibited within the mosque’s walls. Eating and smoking as well, needless to say.
Non-Muslims are admitted Saturdays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.(last admission at 9:20 p.m.)
All day Friday the mosque is reserved only for worshipers at the prayer services. But it can be toured again starting at 4:30 p.m. until 10 p.m.
Official website of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque: www.szgmc.gov.ae/en.
For other things to do in the city, also check these ten Abu Dhabi trip tips.