“It is a nice day out. It will be a pleasant morning at the mosque; not too hot” she says as I get into the taxi who will take me to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It is only mid-morning, but by my standards the day is already quite hot. A dry heat, which makes it more tolerable, but definitely hot. I think to myself that I am glad I came to United Arab Emirates late in the year if this heat is considered cool by local standards.
“Have you been to the Mosque before?” my taxi driver asks as we approach the majestic place of worship. I tell him I haven’t and he smiles with a knowing excitement. “You will feel happy when you arrive and will feel even happier when you leave.” These are the only words he says.
The mosque, named after the nation’s founder, is a marvel in architecture and craftsmanship. It was built to personify the Islamic message of peace, tolerance and diversity.
Although I made sure to dress modestly for the excursion, it is local custom for women to wear an abaya before entering this holy place. I go to the dressing room and receive a long black robe that is thin and loose fitting. Slipping it on easily I tie the head covering in place.
As I walk towards the entrance, the effects of the slight breeze I enjoyed earlier are lost in my additional layer of clothes and I hurry to the shade provided by the colonnade that wraps around the exterior of the mosque. The cool, blue water of the reflecting pool feels serene and its mere presence eases the Middle Eastern desert heat.
The magnificence of this place is owed not only to its grandeur but also the intricate details seen in every direction one looks. I marvel at the thought that went into its design and the imagination of the artisans who created it.
I move slowly though the corridor, stopping to study the designs of floral inlays that climb the columns and walls and the colorful mosaics that adorn the floor.
I stand in awe. Mesmerized by the tiled designs on the walls.
and the intricate carvings of the archways and ceilings.
As I remove my shoes at the entrance to the prayer hall, I hesitate a moment recalling the heat that radiated from the ground the last time I chose to bare my soles at a place of worship. Unlike at the sacred temples of Sri Lanka, the floor underneath me now is refreshing. The marble is soothing to my feet and brings cool relief to my entire body.
The prayer hall is spectacular. The large, handmade carpet is soft – its pattern slightly masking the markings that guide the devoted on where to stand to create orderly rows that maximize the number of people who can participate in prayers. The mosque hosts one million worshipers a year and twice as many tourists.
The light filters through beautiful stained glass windows and shines down from the chandeliers.
Displayed on the wall behind the pulpit are the many names for God.
Just outside the prayer hall is the tomb of Sheikh Zayed, where devotees pray 24-hours a day. Their prayers amplified so others can hear and pay homage. Their chanting is continuous, stopping only twice daily during the call to prayer and picking up again straight away.
I purchase a refreshing icy drink from the café and find a quiet place to sit in the peaceful setting and enjoy the afternoon. My taxi driver was right – I entered this sacred place happy and it made me even happier.