On a recent trip to Dubai Blonde and Brunette’s itinerary included a day trip to Abu Dhabi. This was a guided tour which is generally something we avoid the same way we do Donald Trump and poisonous spiders.But the price was right and Dubai didn’t sound like a good place to “wing it” for two very Western sisters, one with a decided tendency to not behave demurely.
For several days the tour guide had been explaining to the group what could and could not be worn to the mosque. The tour company even gave everyone a printout titled “Mosque Manners” which illustrated the do’s and don’ts. (In the States there is a national obsession in March with college basketball championships. It is referred to as “March Madness” and Blonde thought the handout was titled “Mosque Madness” as a pun. It wasn’t.)
Basically women had to cover everything but their faces and hands wearing clothing that was loose and did not “reveal the female form”. Men had to wear pants and at least short sleeves. Easy enough for the men but for women in a 90+ (F) degree location, the clothing requirements took some preplanning.
Blonde’s luggage had been left at JFK by the lackadaisical employees of Jet Blue so she purchased a special long-sleeved top to wear to the mosque and then vastly over-corrected for headgear by buying a thing that was basically a head-burqa.
As soon as our bus entered the parking lot a very official violation-seeking man came on to the bus and initially was going to turn us away as our guide had less than 80% of her hair covered – and she was Muslim. Then he spotted something much worse – Russian ankles. Truth be told we could see his point as they were not nice ankles. However, the issue wasn’t the aesthetic quality of the ankles but merely their visibility. Panic ensued as everyone on the bus tried to come up with garments or solutions for the ankles. In the end the ankles and the woman attached to them had to stay on the bus.
Brunette’s scrawny little wrists were peeking out of her top so she got the added pleasure of having to wear someone’s long sleeved black t-shirt over the clothing she already had on, plus a wool headscarf.
A long bus ride, an angry dress code enforcer and being clothed in triple what we would have chosen to wear in the temperatures could have made the visit to the mosque dreadful. But the building, the grounds and the interior are probably the most magnificent we’ve seen anywhere in the world and, just like in real life, being good looking gets a lot forgiven.
The mosque was the vision of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan and opened in 2007 after having been started in the late 1990s. (Note to self: Hire this team of workers not the ones from La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona which was started in 1882 and still isn’t finished. The Abu Dhabi team must have been paid by the job and the Spanish one by the hour.)
The Grand Mosque is made with white marble – lots of it and it’s really white.
The green carpet inside the main prayer hall is the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet which took about 2 years to design and knot with over 1,200 artisans working on it.
The massive chandeliers contain thousands of Swarovski crystals and the main chandelier literally weighs almost 12 tons.
The Sheikh was obviously not on a tight budget.
The mosque is free to enter and last year more than 3 million people toured it.
At the conclusion of our time at the mosque the women were very happy to be able to take off several layers of clothing after getting into the secular safety zone of the bus.
Hats off (but headscarves on) to the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan for creating such an indeed grand mosque!