So it is hardly surprising that one of this country’s most important architectural feats and one of the world’s largest mosques is dedicated to his memory.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi is a popular place for worship, learning and tourism that tops the list of attractions for every traveller to Abu Dhabi and the UAE.
The mosque’s doors are open to all to enjoy the splendour created and inspired by the late, great Sheikh Zayed, even as it provides a Friday gathering space and centre for learning about Islam.
So how did the third largest mosque in the world come into being? Although the prayer halls opened for worship on Eid Al Adha in 2007, construction began in November of 1996.
Sheikh Zayed dreamed of building this timeless structure in the late 1980s as a symbol of the UAE’s fusion of traditions and modernity.
He did not live to see the completion, as Sheikh Zayed passed away in 2004, but, under the guidance of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the mosque would eventually become an expression of international unity, with materials and art from Italy, Germany, India, Turkey, Malaysia, New Zealand, and many other countries.
The mosque draws thousands of worshipers and visitors each week to the Mosque Centre, the Library in the north minaret, and Sheikh Zayed’s tomb, over which prayers are offered every hour of every day.
DESIGN AND MATERIALS
Overall, the structure mixes Mughal, Moorish, and traditional Islamic architectural style, among others, as influenced by other iconic buildings like the famous Taj Mahal in India.
While the 107-meter tall minarets remain traditional, they function less for the call to prayer and more for decoration. Natural materials including marble, stone, ceramic, and semi-precious crystals and stones are used generously throughout the mosque.
Over thirty different varieties of marble can be found throughout the Mosque complex, and the central dome incorporates thousands of Swarovski crystals and Italian glasswork.
Even the outer columns are inlaid with panels of lapis lazuli, amethyst, mother of pearl, and other semi-precious stones.
Meanwhile, the domes break from tradition in being Moroccan style, and the marble floors and columns have a floral pattern based on real buds rather than traditionally dense designs.
In another break from traditional Islamic architecture, the Mosque’s lights are not merely green but shift with the phases of the moon.
The Grand Mosque’s many splendours demonstrate the diverse beauty of the United Arab Emirates as a country both then and now.
It is easily visible from the three main bridges connecting the island to the mainland of Abu Dhabi, supporting the symbolic connection between the hearts of all United Arab Emirates citizens and the late Sheikh’s tomb.
As noted on the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Centre website, its doors are open to all at no entry fee from 9 AM to 10 PM daily, barring Friday mornings, when it is closed to tourists, and changed hours of operations during the holy month of Ramadan.
There is a conservative dress code, and women may bring their own or borrow provided traditional abaya robes and headscarves.
My wife and I officially married in Abu Dhabi and we could not be have been happier. My family, extended family and friends were there on our special day.
After the celebrations, we took them on a tour of the city and, of course, the Grand Mosque. They all loved the beauty, environment and the hospitality the guides in the mosque provided.
We had an amazing time spending time with family and friends in the vicinity of the monument.