It seems to me that visiting and studying churches has been my fascination as all are monuments to man’s belief in God. I have been impressed by their power, sometimes by their simplicity, sometimes by the marriage of elements and the beauty of repetitive patterns. In some instances, I have been overwhelmed by the amount of money spent to give tribute to God. Yet outside these beautiful structures were often disadvantaged people, hand outstretched, palm open, asking for relief from crushing poverty. It always seemed to me that Christian churches had elements of contradiction attached. I had two weeks vacation in Dubai and resolved to visit the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is considered to be the key, mosque in the UAE and indeed, to many, in the Middle East.
One drives down the highway and all of the sudden the mosque simply rises out of the ground. First one sees the four minarets, each one 115 meters ( 377 feet) high. These pristine, brilliant, white minarets trimmed in gold, literally blind the eyes. Then the mosque unfolds like some sort of magical city, white and golden. It is, from a distance, magical. We drove into a huge, sectional parking area and getting out of the car I simply stood for a minute trying to absorb and bring my eyes into focus. Immediately, I had the feeling that this was a wonder of the world.
Construction of the mosque happened between 1996-2007 using materials and craftsmen from all over the world. The fusion of Arab, Mughal, Moorish and Persian architectural styles has created a place where one walks in reverence. I walked towards the mosque and was greeted by repetitive arches and reflective pools. One easily feels the grandeur of simple space that signifies that this is indeed a holy place. Space and grandeur blend together seamlessly. The closer one gets to the mosque itself, the more one feels that this is truly a House of God! The progression of feelings generated by the structural surroundings is intense. Truly, one is elevated step by step experience.
People talk quietly in hushed tones and insert themselves in photos of the repetitive columns, the water, the arches. One gets the desire to become part and then to take home a part of this experience. One wants to be able to tell others how it is an emotional reunion. Somehow if we have our photo taken in front such beauty, that we will merge and become a part. Over and over, I found myself standing in awe. I have never felt this reaction in any other religious structure. All this happened and I had not even entered into the mosque itself. Standing in the massive courtyard one does not absorb this Grand Mosque, I do not think this is possible. You do not absorb this mosque…this mosque absorbs you!
Walking into the outer mosque itself one immediately stops. Eyes are allowed to feast on the first of seven imported chandeliers, which altogether have millions of Swarovski crystals. Did you ever have an experience, when each step you make intensifies the impact? One stops, almost ceases to breathe and then allows the eyes to feed the soul. On reflection, I recall that I heard no Oooohs and Ahhhs …I heard the sounds of silence and just hearts beating faster. Sounds are replaced by eyes overcome by reverence.
The inner mosque then unfolds and shoes off, one walks in bare feet on the softest of carpets. Everything is beyond beautiful. The senses are shocked and soothed at the same time. Spectacular columns, of which there are 96 in total rise out of the floor…seamlessly integrating into the general theme. The columns are marble inlaid in mother of pearl and yet the total look is one of elegance and simplicity. I can only think of two words….” Quiet Elegance”.
I took photographs, one after the other. Yet, in the heart of my mind, I knew that I would not be able to capture the feelings generated by this mosque. All the photos in the world can not replace the feeling of the mind, heart and soul being filled by true experience.
Would that I could visit this place, once a week, for a lifetime, so that I might start to see and feel its real meaning, over and over. Would that I could have the power, to describe in words, the feelings. I could not and can not, because this is a place of spirituality. For some reason, this place transcended religion. It is a portrayal of faith.