Sabita Radhakrishna is in awe of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a feat of architectural splendour.

It was well worth every minute of the hot dusty ride from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. What awaited us at the end of our journey was a magnificent mosque, a remarkable feat of architecture melded with aesthetics, and the dream of the late president H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who is fondly thought of as the father of the UAE. You gladly don the soft silky burqas provided for women, unbelievably cool, and my mother gratefully accepts the wheelchair which is provided for her with typical Arabic concern, and our tour begins of the most imposing religious and national landmark in Abu Dhabi to date. The 22,412 sq.m. mosque site is equivalent to around the size of five football fields, and can accommodate 40,960 worshippers.

We found that the 7,874 sq.m. of water bodies strategically positioned and inlaid with dark tiles, surround the mosque, while coloured floral marble and mosaics pave the 17,000 sq.m. courtyard which is decorated with white marble from Greece. The pools, the glass, and the lights reflect the mosque's spectacular image, which becomes even more resplendent at night and the interior walls have decorative gold-glass mosaic features, which further enhances the grandeur.

Five petalled glass images frame the entrance of the doorways, each handmade and cut to the highest grade of precision. Further the glass is cut into iridescent mosaic pieces, which allows the play of light into the prayer halls. You walk into these large halls with smooth marble walls giving you the illusion of hand crafted gardens! From the floor, almost halfway through are inlay mother-of pearl foliage and flowers in colours of pink, yellow and blue. The work is done on the white pillars, and in some places spill on to the floor. Your mind harks back to the Taj Mahal, since some of the motifs and craft bear a striking similarity. Twenty-eight different types of marble have been used throughout the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and include sivec a fine-grained white dolomitic marble, from Greece and Macedonia.

Mixed features

An architectural treasure of a contemporary UAE society, the majestic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was conceived as an idea in the late 1980s. To begin with the architectural design was Moroccan, but gradually it evolved to include features from various parts of the world, since artisans and materials from countries such as Italy, Germany, Morocco, India, Turkey, Iran, China, Greece and the UAE were brought in. More than 3,000 workers and 38 renowned contracting companies took part in the construction of the mosque. The exterior walls are of traditional Turkish design and throughout the magnificent building there is lavish use of natural products like marble, stone, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics.

Our bare feet sink into carpets… as we follow the guide who tells us that the world's largest hand-knotted carpet can be found here. Designed by Iranian artist, Ali Khaliqi, the carpet was hand-crafted by 1,200 artisans in small villages near Mashhadin in Iran. The artisans were flown to Abu Dhabi to stitch the carpet pieces together for the final fitting. Consisting of 2,268,000 knots, the Mosque's carpet is estimated to be valued at US$8.2 million.

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque features 82 domes of Moroccan design decorated with white marble and the main dome's outer shell measures 32.8 metres in diameter! The 1,000 odd columns in the outer areas are clad with more than 20,000 marble panels inlaid with semi-precious stones, including lapis lazuli, red agate, amethyst, abalone shell and mother of pearl. 

We gaze upwards at the world's largest chandelier in the main prayer hall 10 metres in diameter, 15 metres in height and weighing over nine tonnes. The mosque's seven 24 carat gold-plated chandeliers, from Germany, feature thousands of Swarovski crystals from Austria and glasswork from Italy.

Devout worshippers all round us sink into prayer before the Qibla wall with its subtle fibre-optic backlighting which faces the direction of the Holy City of Mecca. Gold-glass mosaic and 24 carat gold in gold leaf has been used in the Mehrab or niche in the middle of the Qibla wall. The 99 names of Allah on the Qibla are inscribed in traditional Kufi calligraphy, designed by the prominent UAE calligrapher, Mohammed Mandi.

The mosque has 80 Iznik panels — highly decorated ceramic tiles popular in the 16th century — which feature distinctly in Istanbul's imperial and religious buildings. Traditionally hand-crafted, each tile was designed by Turkish calligrapher Othman Agha. Additionally, the mosque has four beautiful minarets standing at almost 107 metres each at the four corners of the mosque.

However awestruck one might be, words are not enough to describe this splendiferous mosque, and it is so beautiful and well conceived and lavish to say the least that the beauty can be savoured only by visits not just once but again and again. As we slid off our silky black burqas we promised ourselves to make another visit whenever we could.