Back in 2015 my family booked a group tour to Dubai so that we could experience this part of the globe. This would be our first time going to the middle east since most of our travels have been confined in the US, Europe and Asia. One of our destinations for the tour is a city just 140 kilometres away from Dubai: Abu Dhabi. We were off to visit the largest mosque in the UAE: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque!
Truth be told, it is only when I started to travel on my own did I build interest and curiosity about religious structures and the stories behind them. During my teenage years I would pay no attention to the part of the tours where temples, churches, or other centres for worship were involved. My interest was devoted to natural sciences.
This time I came prepared with a more open mind and now more curious about going to the little details that go beyond the aesthetics of the structure. Why did they build this? Who built it and what was his significance? What was the origin of the design choices? What story lies behind the creation of such a massive structure? Questions run through my mind, frankly more concerned of the why’s than the how’s of this creation.
Entering the Grand Mosque’s Compound
If there’s one tip I’d like to offer in this blog that I wasn’t able to see in other blog posts: DO NOT BRING A LAPTOP. The security here is very tight and apparently my laptop was not allowed into the compound so I was delayed in the security check. The end of it was that I had to leave my laptop and I’ll get to pick it up right after the tour inside the Grand Mosque. Their security is quite professional and as with the practices in UAE, there was a separate line for male and female security check. This is actually not uncommon in the Philippines and is actually an existing practice in traditional Catholic parishes where men and women are separated.
Finally I entered in the Grand Mosque compound and fortunately since it’s December, it wasn’t as hot as it would be in most times of the year but still hot enough for me to squint under the glaring sun. Bring sunglasses when you can.
The Grand Mosque’s outdoor setting reminds me strongly of Agrabah from Disney’s Aladdin. You have the beautiful gardens, wide open spaces, magnificent minarets, calming blue pools of water and the view of the whole Mosque which resembles the palace of the Sheikh of Agrabah: a house worthy of God’s residence.
Sheikh Zayed and the Culture of Tolerance
There happens to be a sad stereotyping of Muslims in the western world because of certain fanatic and extremist groups that have largely tainted the image of Islam in popular media. However in the UAE, the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1918-2004) believed in a culture of tolerance and respect towards all mankind.
“To stereotype a fellow human being is to deprive him of his humanity.”, -Sheikh Zayed
He lived as a pious and pure leader holding close to his heart the teachings of Islam while setting an example this culture of respect. This really reminds me of how close Catholicism and Islam are in the context of what is required of a good man: purity. Sheikh Zayed worked on reconciling the human race amidst the hostile dialogues. To celebrate diversity as a continued and habitual procedure sanctioned by God, he personified these attributes into what we know today as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque: Personifying Peace
A living reference in modern Islamic architecture, the Grand Mosque links the past elements and present elements in harmonious unity thus building a bridge in time. It also carries several schools of Islamic Architecture within its detailed designs and choices of materials. After you have gone through the whole Mosque you will realise how well the mix of the diverse Islamic cultures were put into a single mosque. Complementing the symphony of Islamic architectural schools of design are also post-modern designs which ultimately complete the connection between the past and present.
“And among His signs are the creation of the heavens and the earth and the difference of your language and colors. Verily, in that are indeed signs for man of sound knowledge” (Surah 30, Ar-Rum, “The Roman Empire “, the Holy Quran).”
Just a Couple of Reminders
If you’re not used to visiting a place considered Holy, then please be reminded that these are places deemed to be worthy of God’s presence so even if you don’t share the beliefs of the individuals who made this place possible, please treat the place as though Royalty were among your presence.
That being said please wear clothes which are considered appropriate to the culture (e.g. women wear head covers and long dresses that cover your entirely, women should not wear pants, men should not wear sleeveless shirts and shorts).
Please maintain silence because this is primarily a place of worship. The Grand Mosque being a tourist destination, is only secondary. Turn-off your cellphones or keep them in silent mode. Lastly, be respectful in doing your poses in the camera. They are already gracious enough to allow photography but don’t make any poses which may be deemed as mockery.
A Symbol of Hope
World peace, understanding, unity, compassion, and universal love across nations and races.
The Grand Mosque has provided hope throughout the world through its constant presence and reminder of the culture of respect and tolerance left to us through the Father of UAE: Sheikh Zayed. In my own country, a battle against extremist Muslims build a sense of fear among non-Muslim Filipinos. However, I hope this message of unity in Abu Dhabi continues to inspire me to help Muslim Filipinos remind other Filipinos that Islam is not a religion of War.
Islam is a religion of Love and Love is universal.