The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is a must-see destination during your visit to Muscat. This religious landmark took six years to build and was inaugurated in May of 2001. There is no charge to gain admittance, but men are required to wear long pants, women must cover arms, legs and wear a headscarf. Although there wasn’t massive security at the entrance gate, I can share the armed sentry posted at the entrance to the Main Prayer Hall (wielding a nasty-looking automatic rifle) stopped a woman headed inside and politely instructed her to completely cover her hair before continuing.
The Main Prayer Hall (musalla) is the single most astonishing fact of the Grand Mosque, but only one of many wonders on the grounds. The central dome of the main musalla rises up fifty meters and cradles a fourteen meter high Swarovski crystal chandelier – the biggest chandelier in the world! Looking up inside the Main Prayer Hall is an eye-popping experience, but there are other miracles underfoot. The Persian carpet covering the floor weighs 21 tons and was made in Iran by 600 women working for four years! A total of 1.7 million knots were tied to fabricate this fine wool floor covering.
All of this magnificence compelled me to learn a bit about mosques. The mihrab is a niche in one wall of the mosque designating it as the qibla, the wall facing towards Mecca (so it is the wall to be faced during prayers). A minbar, the raised platform from which the imam speaks, is usually built into the qibla wall as well. Both of these can be found in the Grand Mosque, presented with ornate decorations that defy description.
Arcades surrounding the buildings combine tons of white marble with gorgeous landscaping to create another feast for the eyes. Several minarets also adorn the campus and my sole regret was not being around during a call to prayer. To be respectful, we staged our visit in avoidance of the five daily adhans. Once we arrived and realized how expansive the grounds were (meaning plenty of spaces to ensure we would not interrupt anyone), I was remiss. Foremost, I was curious to hear the muezzin, the person who broadcasts the call. Although a muezzin is not a formal part of the mosque’s clergy,
selection is based upon devoutness and voice quality. I can share the daily rhythm of these calls is something I miss when returning from Muslim cultures, but there is great variety. Seems like more and more are relying on recorded calls rather than live performance (I have never heard a live call without the benefit of a microphone, however). In addition, there seems to be a marked reduction in volume levels for bigger cities (especially Dubai).
I suspected a live muezzin at a respectable degree of loudness, but my curiosity around the Grand Mosque call to prayer would go unsatisfied…perhaps you can visit and let me know what I missed?