The Sheikh Zayed Mosque, or Grand Mosque as it is often called, is an
impressive sight when driving into Abu Dhabi (location
map). The words
'huge', 'enormous', 'massive', etc seem to understate the size of the
mosque substantially. You'll understand when you drive past it or visit it. Don't forget to charge up your camera battery before you do. The mosque looks particularly spectacular early in the morning just after sunrise, or late afternoon as the sun sets. It should be one of the top items on a "must see" list of sights for anyone living in or visiting Abu Dhabi, Dubai, or anywhere else in the UAE.
The mosque is located between Mussafah bridge and Maqta bridge in the emirate of Abu Dhabi (route map). It's not obviously signposted (at least it wasn't the last time we went) but it's large enough you'll see it and find a way to the car park eventually - it's on the Airport Road side of the mosque. The grand entrance with the steps at the front has limited parking.
The mosque is open to people of all nationalities and religions, not only Muslims (unknown if Israeli Jews are permitted to visit but Israelis generally can't visit the UAE so the question is moot, and anyway there's no passport or religion check of visitors to the mosque).
Visitors can walk around the main courtyard by themselves (at pretty much any time of day except Friday mornings), and inside the main mosque prayer hall (restricted during prayer times, Friday sermon times, and Ramadan).
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center established in 2008 to manage day to day operations including education and visitor programs.
not only as a place of worship and Friday gathering, but has been a place of learning and discovery through its
Queen Elizabeth II of the UK, also the Head of the Church of England, visited the Sheikh Zayed Mosque on 24 November 2010 during a visit to the UAE with her husband, Prince Philip. She was the first leader of a non-Muslim religion to officially visit the Sheikh Zayed Mosque according to a WAM news report 25 November 2010.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque opening hours and times, and tours
Opening hours - walk through interior unguided. Exterior open 24 hours?
2012 (June report)
1400-2200? Closed am
0900-1200, closed Fridays
1400-2200? Closed am
Guided tour timings - no booking needed, arrive 15 mins before start time.
2012 (June report)
1000,1100 (not Fridays)
1000, 1100, 1700
1400, 1700, 2000
1000, 1100, 1400, 1700, 2000
0900, 1000, 1700?
0900, 1000, 1700?
From March 2008
Photography is permitted inside and outside the mosque except for taking photos of the grave of Sheikh Zayed and the area around the tomb.
Opening hours appear to be almost anytime from sunrise to late evening for the grounds and courtyard although many sources say only 0900-1130 or 1200 Sunday to Thursday. It's worth visiting in the evenings to look at all the pretty lights, or early morning at sunrise. No entry fee is required.
Visitors must leave Prayer Hall during prayer times. Mosque and prayer hall closed to the general public on Fridays until about 1400 in the afternoon.
From 2010 (or 2009) tour booking not necessary unless in a large group (>10 people, email email@example.com to make a reservation). Tours take about one hour.
Free guided tours of the mosque daily (except Fridays) at 0900, 1000, and 1700? Ramadan timings might be different - eg 1100 only.
Pre-booking of guided tours is suggested by many sources but you can probably just turn up 15-30 minutes before the time and join a group if it's not too busy.
Tours of the Grand Mosque available from March 2008, daily at 0900 and 1000 (except during Ramadan - daily 11am in 2010?), in Arabic and English. Tour duration 60-90 minutes.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque Educational Tour available from January 2008? Phone (+971-2-4181308 or +971-2-4440444) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority to book ahead.
Mosque open to the public from 21 January 2008 with visiting hours from 0900 or 0930-1130 Sunday to Thursday. Maybe Saturdays also. Visitors are free to walk around on their own during those times.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque dress code and behaviour
No smoking, eating, or drinking inside the mosque area.
Dress code for men is long-sleeve shirts, long trousers, no shorts. White dish-dashas are available for men who are inappropriately dressed.
Dress code for women is long trousers or skirts, long-sleeve shirts or tops, nothing tight, headscarf (important). Black abayas are provided to visiting females. You might, or will probably, be given one to wear no matter how conservatively dressed you are so don't worry too much about what you're wearing, or if you forget to bring a scarf.
Hair (for women) should be kept covered while in the mosque grounds but it's not necessary to cover faces.
Footwear must be removed before entering so it is recommended that visitors wear comfortable shoes that are easily removed.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque Rihanna photo controversy
Rihanna, a woman famous for singing and being used as a punching bag by Chris Brown, visited the UAE to perform a concert at the du Arena on Yas Island Sat 19 Oct 2013. Like many visitors to Abu Dhabi, she went to have a look at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, and like many visitors, had photos taken of herself at the mosque.
But unlike most visitors, she dressed in a black jumpsuit and head covering which was regarded as fashionable, tasteful, disrespectful, or offensive depending on who you listened to. The jumpsuit, although not skintight as though it had been painted on, was tight enough to show off her figure more clearly than the loose abayas that women usually wear when visiting the mosque.
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque authorities had a perspective that wasn't favorable as far as Rihanna's costume and poses were concerned, and she was reportedly asked to leave the area, partly because of her dress sense, partly because of her posing, and partly because she didn't arrange the photoshoot with management in advance of her visit.
UAE newspapers carried an English translation of an Arabic statement from the mosque after Rihanna's visit, which did not name Rihanna specifically but said "... The Centre would like to point to a personal visit incident that was carried out by 'a prominent singer' to the mosque. The singer did not make arrangements with the mosque’s management prior to her visit and had used an entrance that is not intended for visitors. Despite being directed to enter through the visitors' entrance to take a standard tour of the mosque, the singer stayed outside to take some photos. She was asked to leave once it became apparent that some of the photographs she took were not in compliance with the terms of the mosque." Some UAE newspapers apparently didn't think the costume was so distasteful - they published photos of Rihanna posing at the mosque along with the statement and story.
Rihanna posted photos on her Instagram account with the title "Fashion Killaz in Abu Dhabi". It wasn't really clear what she meant by that, or if she was just trying to demonstrate an inadequate knowledge of the English language.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Youtube video
(about 3 mins) from Halcrow about the construction of the Grand Mosque...
Full name of the mosque is Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, named after the first president and founder of the UAE, who was buried at the Mosque site after his death on 03 November 2004.
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is the third largest in the world according to the General Secretariat Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC), the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture in Turkey. The two mosques in Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia are larger.
Area of the Shaikh Zayed Mosque is 22,412 square meters. The 4 minarets are 107 meters high.
An Iranian carpet placed in the main prayer hall, woven by about 1200 Iranian women, is 5000 sq m and is the largest hand-woven carpet in the world, made out of 35 tons of wool and cotton. Cost AED 30 million, delivered to Abu Dhabi in early August 2007.
The seven chandeliers in the mosque cost about AED 30 million.
The main dome is the largest in the world and is 87 metres high with a diameter of 32.8 metres. There are a total of 82 domes in the mosque, of traditional Moroccan design.
The courtyard will have a total of 1048 columns.
The Qibla wall will be lit by about 250 EFO illuminators from Fiberstars EFO - a supplier of fiber optics.
Construction materials and components are sourced from Germany, Greece, Iran, Italy.
About 1500 workers involved in construction
About 40,000 worshippers can be accommodated
Main prayer hall can accommodate 5000 worshippers
Sheikh Zayed Mosque Library
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque library location is in the north minaret.
The library contains books and other publications focused on Islamic subjects including arts, calligraphy, civilization, science.
Oldest publications are over 200 years old.
Publications in several languages including Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Korean, Spanish.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Iftar meals during Ramadan
Since 2007, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque has provided Iftar meals during Ramadan.
Meals are free, and non-Muslims are welcome.
Iftar (breaking of the daily fast) meals held in Grand Mosque carpark - capacity of up to 15,000.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque news and events
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque was featured in a collection of commemorative stamps issued by Emirates Post in September 2010. Stamp denominations of AED 1 and AED 5 available at all post offices. First Day Covers for AED 7, and Souvenir Sheets at AED 25 each, available at main post offices in Abu Dhabi and Dubai (Karama and Deira).
Grand Mosque construction progress and contractors
The mosque was initially considered in the late 1980s with planning, design, and location consideration taking place through to the mid 1990s.
Construction start date was 05 November 1996 but after initial phase of work, construction appeared to stagnate, with various stories floating around of money running out and disagreements between the contractors and the Public Works Department of Abu Dhabi.
Halcrow took over the construction supervision in October 2001 and the concrete shell of the mosque was completed by May 2002. The mosque was finally completed in late 2007 with the internal prayer halls open for Eid Al Adha prior to completion.
The original details of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque Project were
Client: Abu Dhabi Public Works Department
Designer: Yusef Abdelki (Yousef Abdelky), a Syrian architect
Consulting Engineers: Tractabel Al Khaleej of Belgium
Main Contractor: Joint Venture between Impreglio & Rizzani de Eccher of Italy
Start Date: April 1997
Completion Date: September 2002
Cost: AED 1.5 billion
The British construction group, Halcrow, took over the project consultancy of the mosque in October 2001. Present details are
Consulting Engineers: Halcrow Group
Project Manager: Hill International (USA)
Main Contractor: Joint Venture between Six Construct Company and Arabian Construction Company (ACC)
Completion Date: Sep/Oct 2007 with the mosque opening at the end of Ramadan
Project Director: Khoulah Al Sulaimani
Cost: about AED 2.1 billion
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi facts and figures (WAM 25 November 2010)
Design and construction sourced from countries including Austria (Swarovski crystals in chandeliers), China, Germany (chandeliers), Greece, India, Iran, Italy (glasswork), Morocco, New Zealand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates (UAE), United Kingdom (UK).
Over 3,000 workers and 38 contracting companies were involved in the construction project.
Materials used included ceramics, crystals, gold, marble, semi-precious stones, stone.
Maximum capacity is 40,960 people - 22,729 in the open Sahan (courtyard), 7,126 in the main prayer hall, 1,960 in the open prayer hall, 980 in the open prayer hall female section, 682 in the main prayer hall entrance, 784 in the main hall entrance.
Total area is 22,412 square meters (about the same as 5 football fields). Courtyard area is about 17,000 sq m. Area of reflective pools surrounding the courtyard is 7,874 sq m.
Domes - 82 domes of Moroccan design decorated with white marble. Main dome outer shell has a diameter of 32.8 meters, and height of 70 m from inside and 85 m from the outside. It is the largest dome of its kind according to the Research Centre for Islamic History and Culture in Turkey.
Columns - the Mosque has about 1,000 columns in its outer areas, clad with over 20,000 marble panels inlaid with semi-precious stones including abalone shell, amethyst, lapis lazuli, mother of pearl, red agate. The 96 columns in the main prayer hall are decorated with mother of pearl.
Minarets - there are 4 minarats, each with a height of about 107 metres.
Lighting system was designed by lightning architects Jonathon Speirs and Major to reflect the phases of the moon.
Main glass door of the mosque: height 12.2 m, width 7 m, weight about 2.2 tonnes.
Chandelier in main prayer hall is the world's largest: diameter 10m, height 15m, weight about 9 tonnes.
Carpet in the main prayer hall is the world's largest hand-knotted carpet with 2,268,000 knots. Designed by Iranian artist, Ali Khaliqi, and hand-crafted by 1,200 artisans in small villages near Mashhadin in Iran.
Qibla wall (facing towards the Holy City of Mecca): height 23m, width 50m. The Qibla wall features traditional Kufi calligraphy, designed by UAE calligrapher Mohammed Mandi, showing the 99 names (qualities) of Allah. Fibre-optic lighting is also used.
Calligraphy from the three styles of Kufi, Naskhi, Thuloth is used in the mosque, designed by calligraphers from Jordan, Syria, and UAE.
Cladding - total of 115,119 sq m of cladding used on the mosque and minarets.
Panels - 80 hand-crafted Iznik panels, or ceramic tiles, feature Thuloth style calligraphy from Sheikh Hasan Celbi of Turkey.
Marble - 28 different types of marble used in the mosque, including SIVEC from Greece and Macedonia on the external cladding, Lasa from Italy in the internal elevations, Makrana from India in annexes and offices, Aquabiana and Biano from Italy, East White and Ming Green from China.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque Abu Dhabi contact details
Tour bookings for groups and VIP vistors, email email@example.com. Bookings not needed for individuals, families, or groups smaller than 10 people.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center enquiries tel +971-2-4416444 or 800-555 (toll-free in UAE), email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Sheikh Zayed Mosques
Sheikh Zayed Mosque Oxford, UK - completion announced 05 Aug 2013 by the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation. Mosque funded by the UAE. Islamic Center funded by several countries.