Posts Tagged ‘UAE’

Sheikh Zayed Mosque ~ Floral & Exquisite

April 18th, 2013 13 comments

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

I finally made it to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque—the most exquisite mosque I’ve ever visited. I had not expected to be dazzled, but I was.

What impressed me first was the striking white of the mosque and its grand scale. Next, it was the gorgeous floral motifs and overwhelmingly feminine style. Meanwhile, the various architectural accents—domes, columns and archways—were amazing, too.  

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The mosque, which opened in 2007 in Abu Dhabi, was the vision of Sheikh Zayed, the founding father and first ruler of the United Arab Emirates. The tomb of Sheikh Zayed is located nearby the mosque.

The Design

The mosque is one of the largest in the world and accommodates over 40,000 worshippers. Stunning white with gold accents, the mosque is surrounding by reflective pools and features 1000 columns and 82 domes.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

A fusion of Arab, Moorish, and Mughal elements, the design of the mosque was directly influenced by mosques in Morocco and Pakistan, as well as the Taj Mahal in India. 

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

More than 3,000 people took part in the building of the mosque, which included artisans and materials from many countries, including Italy, Morocco, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, Greece, UK, Germany, New Zealand, and the UAE.

The archways are quintessentially Moorish.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Courtyard

The courtyard is massive and the floral design in the marble floor is not only spectacular, but also the largest example of a marble mosaic in the world.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The four minarets, placed in the four corners of the courtyard, are classically Arab in design.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Garden Foyer

Before entering the prayer area, one passes through the garden foyer, which echoes the flower motifs of the courtyard.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Main Prayer Hall

The Main Prayer Hall, which can accommodate 7,000 worshippers, is the heart of the mosque.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Qibla Wall (direction wall) features the 99 names of God written in Kufic calligraphy and designed by an Emirati calligrapher.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abi Dhabi

The prayer niche is made of gold leaf. 

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Carpet

Inside the hall is the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet. Made of wool, the carpet is Iranian designed and made. It was crafted by 1,200 women and took two years to complete. The lines marked in the carpet tell the worshippers where to line up.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Women’s Prayer Hall

Without a doubt, this is the most beautiful women’s prayer area I’ve ever seen. Built to accommodate 1,500 women, the area is spacious and bright.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The ceiling, which was designed in Morocco, is made to match the carpet, which was designed in Malaysia. The two patterns mirror each other.  

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhbai

The mosque also houses a library with classic books on Islamic subjects relating to science, calligraphy, art, and civilization. The collection features a broad range of languages and includes rare and historic publications. Click here to find out more about the Sheikh Zayed Mosque Library.

Visiting the mosque

Opening hours and tour times vary slightly throughout the year. Currently, the mosque is open to visitors daily from 9:00am to 10:00pm and Fridays from 4:30pm to 10pm. I advise morning or evening visits during the hot months.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

I highly recommend the guided tours. Our tour guide Khadija was very knowledgeable and well-spoken. Free tours are currently given daily at 10:00am, 11:00am and 5:00pm. Additional tours on Saturday are 2:00pm and 7:00pm. Friday tours are 5:00pm and 7:00pm. See website for up-to-date visiting hours and tour schedule.

What to wear

Of course, women must cover their hair. The mosque offers unique abayas for female visitors. The abaya comes with an attached hood with a tie. You can select either a long abaya (floor length) or short (shin-length), depending on what you are wearing underneath.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Alternatively, you can wear your own modest clothing: a loose-fitting tunic over a long skirt or wide-leg trousers (what I wore).

Sheikh Zayed Mosque - What to wear

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Men must be modest, too—long trousers and shirt with sleeves. See the website sidebar for more information on mosque manners.

Did you know?

In Abu Dhabi, there is only one muatheen—that is, the man who calls the worshipers to prayer five times per day.  Yes, just one. His athan (call to prayer) is not recorded, but is projected live from all mosques in Abu Dhabi.

Question: Have you been to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque? What were your impressions?

Book Review ~ From Rags to Riches by Mohammed Al-Fahim

August 21st, 2012 6 comments

The one book that all residents of the UAE should read is From Rags to Riches by Mohammed Al-Fahim. The subtitle is A Story of Abu Dhabi, but because Abu Dhabi is the capital, the book reads like the story of the UAE.

First published in 1995, the book is part history and part memoir. Al-Fahim recounts his childhood, the hardships his family endured and his experiences in the UAE from the 1950s onward. This is all woven with the history of the UAE and its dramatic transformation from a tribal society to a modern nation.

The book is full of fascinating anecdotes about life in the UAE before the discovery of oil. Al-Fahim explains that as a child, the kandura had no pockets because they had nothing to put in them. He recounts traveling by camel from Al Ain to Abu Dhabi and describes the treacherous job of pearl diving. He gives insights into why Sheikh Zayed is so revered by his people. Interestingly, Al-Fahim discusses how the British exploited the UAE and why he has forgiven them.

The book was ghostwritten by Susan Macaulay. She visited my book club some years ago and told us how she conducted a series of interviews with Mr. Al-Fahim, recorded his words and turned them into a cohesive story.

In short, this book provides illuminating insights into the history and culture of the United Arab Emirates. The book is sold all over the UAE in various languages, and I recommend it to all expats living here.

Question: Have you read from Rags to Riches? What are your thoughts on the book?

Heritage House and a Hidden Gem

January 20th, 2012 5 comments

Seven women. One SUV. Three destinations.

All members of the same book club, we were on a mission to check out Dubai’s Heritage House on the Deira side of Dubai Creek. We had just read the memoir At the Drop of a Veil, set in Saudi Arabia in the 1940s and 50s. We wondered if Dubai’s Heritage House was similar to one of the houses described in the book.

Also on our agenda was the school next door and lunch afterward.

Although most of us are familiar with the Bur Dubai side of the Creek, few of us had heard of Heritage House or the school next to it, both located on Al Ahmadiya Street.

And a surprise awaited.

Heritage House

Built around 1890, this restored house is one of the best examples of a traditional Emirati home. From 1910, it was owned by Sheikh Ahmad, the most famous pearl merchant in Dubai at the time. His name graces both Al Ahmadiya Street and Al Ahmadiya School. Like other traditional homes of the region, this one has a large courtyard.

The house changed hands over the years. In 1935, decorative motifs and other artistic elements were added. In 1994, restoration began, and Heritage House was opened as a museum in 2000. Below is one of the outdoor sitting areas off the courtyard.

As is the custom in the region, the home has carved wooden doors.

Like other UAE heritage sites, traditional Emirati scenes are re-created for visitors to imagine life before the oil boom. Below is the majlis, the most important room in the house and where guests are received.

Here is al-hijla, the bridal room.

The kitchen is a small room in the corner of the house, far from the living rooms to keep the cooking odors away. Here are the traditional cooking utensils.

This is the upper level of the house.

In the center of the house is an outdoor majlis area where we relaxed. This visit was perfectly slow-paced, and completely different from a visit to the Dubai Museum, where one must struggle against throngs of tourists. By this point we had forgotten about all about the house in the book we had read. 

As we took in the morning, we were served Arabic coffee and an unexpected snack of black-eyed peas, and finally sweet tea—all complimentary.

Before we left, we stopped by the gift shop and admired the kitschy Arabic trinkets, which always make me smile.

Just as we were leaving, a busload of Polish tourists came pouring in; fortunately, we were onto our next destination, which for me, turned out to be the highlight of the day.

Al Ahmadiya School 

Al Ahmadiya School is also located on Al Ahmadiya Street. Built in 1912, it was the first school in Dubai and was in active operation as a school from 1912 until 1965. This school was attended by Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the prime mover  behind modern Dubai.

Today the school is a historical landmark. When we walked into the school, this is what we saw.

We passed through the archway and into the courtyard. We were all surprised by the simplicity and beauty of this historic school.

Some of us wondered why we had never heard of it before.

This school was calming and peaceful. I have never seen scalloped archways like this in Dubai, nor have I seen a school like this here. In my eyes, this school is a hidden gem in the city.

Off the courtyard are many little classrooms, each with a Quranic inscription above.

Afterward, we lunched at a Yemeni restaurant overlooking the abra boats on the Creek. As we reflected on our little excursion, we ate a traditional mandi meal of rice and lamb, as well as roasted fish and large rounds of fresh Yemeni-style bread.

Heritage House and Al Ahmadiya School are open daily 8:00am to 7:30pm, and Fridays 2:30pm to 7:30pm. Entrance is free.

What is your favorite historical or cultural sight in the UAE?