The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, also known as the Great White Mosque of Abu Dhabi, is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates and one of the most majestic in the world. Inaugurated in 2007 after almost ten years of construction, the mosque is not only an important place of worship for Muslim worshippers but also a masterpiece of architecture that attracts many visitors.
During a trip to Dubai, it is highly recommended to take a day to organise an excursion to Abu Dhabi and visit, among other things in the city, this beautiful religious site that covers an area of about 22,400 square metres and can accommodate up to 40,000 worshippers.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was commissioned in 1996 by then UAE President Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan who decided he wanted to create a work that combined the values of the Islamic religion with aspects of modern architecture and art. When one arrives at the site of the Mosque, one cannot but be immediately struck by its majestic appearance: the complex, in fact, extends over about 12 hectares and includes several buildings inside, including a library and the headquarters of various associations and cultural centres. Externally, one can clearly see the 82 domes of various sizes that have been finely ornamented with verses from the Koran and mother-of-pearl mosaics depicting traditional motifs.
The mosque proper was built of white marble (which is why it is also called the ‘White Mosque’) from different parts of the world, including Lasa in South Tyrol and Prilep in Macedonia. The structure is characterised by large courtyards and four minarets, each about 107 metres high, which give the building a truly imposing appearance and the interior is also finely decorated with mosaics.
The religious building also includes a large courtyard (Sahan) that covers some 17,400 m² and is used by worshippers during important Islamic festivals and large gatherings such as those that occur during the holy month of Ramadan when up to 31,000 worshippers can be accommodated here. The floor of the inner courtyard consists of fine marble tiles that make up a beautiful mosaic with floral motifs. The courtyard is surrounded by arcades that are supported by columns made of white marble on some of which the date palm, a plant that is very common in the country, is drawn. In total, there are 1096 columns in the arcade and each piece has been hand-carved and inlaid by local craftsmen.
As for the interior, however, the main prayer hall houses one of the largest hand-knotted carpets in the world, measuring some 5,700 square metres and considered a true work of art made in Iran by some 1,200 craftsmen. The hall also features 96 columns of pure white marble inlaid with mother-of-pearl decorations, which help support the three main domes. There is also a huge crystal chandelier with glass panels studded with Swarovski crystals that weighs about 12 tonnes and was made in Germany.
Six other chandeliers of similar design but smaller in size are hung in the other halls. One detail about Sheikh Zayed’s Grand Mosque is certainly its night lighting system, which is designed to look its best in combination with the phases of the moon. The mosque, therefore, is illuminated at night by a lighting system that, depending also on the moonlight, highlights all its architectural elegance.
The easiest way to visit the Mosque if you are based in Dubai is certainly with a guided day tour that includes round trip transfer from your accommodation.
There are numerous daily guided tours from Dubai to the famous Abu Dhabi Mosque, the one below is the most bought and popular with visitors.
In addition to visiting the Mosque, several tours also offer other Abu Dhabi attractions, such as the famous Louvre or the Qaṣr Al-Waṭan Palace.
Unlike other Islamic places of worship open only to the faithful, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is open to visitors of all religions. However, in order to gain access, it is important to observe rules of dress and behaviour such as wearing sober, non-transparent clothes.
Women must also have their heads covered and avoid low-cut necklines and skimpy dresses. Shoulders and arms must also be covered, as must legs at least up to below the knee – a rule that applies to both women and men.
To support all visitors, tunics (abayas) are provided free of charge at the entrance to the mosque for women to wear over their own clothes.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is open daily with the following opening hours:
For those already in Abu Dhabi, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is easily accessible by taxi or local public transport bus lines. Just a few minutes’ walk from the site, in fact, are the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque bus stops served by bus numbers 94 and X4 and Wahat Al Karama St. (Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque) served by bus number 175.
Alternatively, those departing from Dubai can take a private transfer to Abu Dhabi or visit the mosque via one of the many tours from Dubai to discover the best of the Emirates capital in one or two days.
Sheikh Zayed's Grand Mosque stands majestically at the entrance to Abu Dhabi City Island and is clearly visible from the three main bridges (Maqta, Mussafah and Sheikh Zayed) connecting the city to the mainland. The mosque's strategic location was desired by the Sheikh who also wanted to express the importance of this building in this way.