Friday, February 29, 2008

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The capital basks in its Glory
By Nissar Hoath on Friday, February 29 , 2008

(SALIM KHAMIS)

The Glory of Abu Dhabi is the name that many have given to the newly opened Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The majestic landmark with its 57 domes – including the world’s largest – and four 107-metre minarets dominates every approach to the capital.

The structure, which cost Dh2.2 billion to build and covers 22,000 square feet, is one of the world’s 10 largest mosques and can accommodate 40,000 worshippers. It contains the world’s largest chandelier, made with one million Swarovski crystals, as well as the largest carpet.

It opened for prayers for the first time on Eid Al Adha, with The President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler of Abu Dhabi, General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and other senior officials and sheikhs taking part.

Now residents and tourists, who have previously been limited to gazing at the mosque while driving into Abu Dhabi, can see what it looks like inside. The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) has opened the doors for guided tours from Saturday to Thursday.

The first group spent 90 minutes having a close look, strolling along walkways between date-palm-shaped pillars with gleaming golden leaves. They gaped at the massive sparkling chandelier and studied the meticulous craftsmanship of the vast hand-made Persian carpet.

Many said they were struck by a sense of coolness, calmness and peace, and felt they were escaping from their worldy troubles. And this feeling is shared by regular worshippers.

“I have never had such peace of mind and relief from negative thoughts that I have experienced in this mosque,” said Abdul Hameed, a taxi driver originally from Pakistan.

“My first visit was for the Eid Al Adha prayers. Though it was filled with hundreds of people there was pin-drop silence other than the synchronised, echoing sounds of prayers. Now I regularly offer my Friday prayers in the mosque and whenever I’m upset I just go there and spend hours in prayers, reciting verses from the Quran.”

Nassir Saif Al Reyami, director of ADTA’s Licensing and Classification Division, organised the first tour. He said: “The mosque reflects the true spirit of Islam, a religion of peace and tolerance.

“The tours will allow residents and tourists alike to experience this inspiring addition to Islamic architecture and to receive an insight into Islam and Abu Dhabi’s heritage from trained and certified tourist guides.

“It stands as a symbol of the warm hospitality and traditions of Abu Dhabi and informs travellers of this message as they approach the capital. The role of the mosque is to embody the emirate of Abu Dhabi and Arabic and Islamic traditions and culture.”

The mosque combines traditional Islamic designs with modern architectural techniques.

Craftsmen from around the world were commissioned to produce the finest materials for the construction and interior decoration.

The German-made Swarovski chandelier was produced with 28 different types of marble and 24-carat gold.

The giant rug was made by the Iran Carpet Company at a cost of Dh31 million. It was airlifted in nine pieces on two chartered Russian Illusion cargo planes from Tehran last August.

On arrival in Abu Dhabi it was transported to the mosque on a fleet of nine trucks where two groups of Iranians rolled out the pieces as a single carpet.

Another group travelled from Iran to trim and line the rug and finally a team arrived to clean it and apply the final touches.

The carpet covered an area of more than 6,000 square metres and weighed more than 40 tonnes when it was originally rolled out. Trimming and cleaning reduced the size to 5,625 sq m and the weight to 30 tonnes.

The mosque sits on a nine-metre-high platform to make it clearly visible from all over Abu Dhabi. The world-record dome on the main building is 83m high, has an inner diameter of 32.8m and weighs 1,000 tonnes. It was assembled with fibre-solidified gypsum by a specialist team from Morocco.

The mosque was built with 210,000 cubic metres of concrete, reinforced with 33,000 tonnes of steel. And, to cope with thousand of worshippers, there are 100 ablution points.

Visiting the mosque

Anyone wishing to visit Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque can prebook by sending an e-mail to: zayedmosquetour@adta.ae. Visitors are advised to wear modest, conservative and loose-fitting clothes with women covering their heads as a mark of respect. Long sleeves are required and shorts or short skirts are not acceptable. As footwear has to be removed before entering the mosque, slip-off shoes are recommended.

The world’s largest rug

Some 1,400 weavers, technicians, designers, dyers and other workers spent 21 months producing the mosque’s giant rug in Iran.

“The rug has 2.2 billion knots and was produced by hand-picked weavers,” said Dr Jalaluddin Bassam, managing director of the Iran Carpet Company.

The design work took six months, the weaving a year and the finishing work a further three months.

“The carpet is made of wool and cotton in 25 different colours – no silk was used,” added Bassam. “Fifty per cent of the wool came from Iran and the other 50 per cent from New Zealand. We used pure natural wool from the Sistan and Baluchestan and Hormuzgan provinces, which are famous for their fine wool produced by nomads. And pure Iranian cotton was used. The 25 colours include 20 natural dyes and five fast synthetic colours.”


The rug was assembled by weavers at three large workshops in three different villages in Nishapur near Meshhad, the capital of the province of North Khorasan.

The province – particularly Meshhad and its remote areas – is the centre of production of the famous Meshhadi, Balochi and Torkmen rugs.

The mosque rug’s design features Islamic and traditional Iranian floral art and motifs.

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