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Monday, April 4, 2011

A little Islam education…

This past week I went to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi with the Ranches Ladies group from my neighborhood.  This mosque is one of only a few that allows non-Muslims to visit.  There are a bunch of photos and a bunch of explanations… it is a novel, sorry!
This Mosque was stated in 1996 by Sheikh Zayed and is almost completed.  The surrounding grounds and entrance gates have yet to be finished.  We entered from the side of the Mosque since there was construction at the front. 
When you first walk up to the Mosque you are ushered into a side room where you are given a traditional Abaya and head scarf to wear (unless, you are dressed completely inappropriately and you are met in the parking lot with an Abaya).  As a woman, in order to enter the Mosque, you must have on the traditional outfit and have your head covered.  If you are a man, you may enter if your legs are covered, if they are not, you are given a traditional white robe to wear.  All the Abaya’s have the mosque image embroidered on the right sleeve…..I guess so you can’t take them with you.  Some people might find having to change and cover unsettling,  however, if you are a gentile man and enter a synagogue you are asked to wear a yamaka and devout catholic women used to be required to cover their heads before entering mass… no matter what religion it is, it is all based on tradition and the written word!
Every single dome in the Mosque has a different pattern inside.  They are all low relief stone carvings and are breathtaking because they are all so intricately detailed with each having a ring of Arabic writing at the base of the dome.  
 I was standing under a dome looking back towards the open praying pavilion and one of four spires.
This is looking back from under the covered walkway to the open pavilion again.  This area is used for overflow prayer during the two big Islamic ceremonies during the year.  It is like overflow to the fellowship hall when all the “Christmas/Easter” people come to church.  The mosaic work on the ground is beautiful and most of it is made from special white marble that does not get very hot.  This is important when it is 125 degrees outside and you are praying and touching your legs, hands and face to the ground… I guess if it did get hot, you could tell who got to Mosque on time and who was late by the red burn marks on their foreheads. 
When you enter the “Narthex” of the Mosque you see a spectacular garden scene with flowers inlayed on the floor and up the walls.  Beautiful flower and geometric stain glass windows and doors lead into the room and the walls are made from 7 different types of marble imported from 7 different countries.

 This initial room is supposed to represent what heaven will be like.  In the Quran, it is illustrated as a beautiful garden like nothing we have ever witnessed.  I guess I would equate it to what the Garden of Eden was described as being.  This room is very peaceful and is meant to calm your thoughts and mind before entering prayer rooms.

There are these flower shaped clocks on the walls that state the times of prayer for the day as Muslims pray 5 times a day.  These prayers can take anywhere from between 3 to 12 minutes each depending on the scriptures that are chosen.   The clocks have 6 times on them though.  Starting from the top right is the Morning Prayer time.  Then going clockwise; the time of sunrise… if you get to this time and haven’t said your morning prayer... you are late! Then there is one around lunch, mid afternoon, evening and night.  You may wonder why a clock is needed if prayer is 5 times a day, everyday right… well, in the UAE they pray following the solar calendar and the time of the sunrise changes daily, therefore the prayer times change.  Dubai’s prayers are actually 3 minutes earlier than Abu Dhabi because of the sunrise time.

This is the ceiling of one of the prayer rooms.  Again, it is low relief stone carving and the detailing is amazing! One cool feature is if you stand and look at your feet and then look straight up, the pattern on the carpet you are standing on will exactly match the pattern above your head on the ceiling.

This carpet is actually the largest solid hand knotted carpet in the world.  It took years to create offsite and was shipped to Abu Dhabi for the Mosque.  In the picture you will also see raised lines going though the carpet.  It is not carpet seams (since it is one solid carpet!) it is actually a way for people to make straight lines when lining up to pray.  Let me explain what needs to be done before prayer.  You must wash before you pray.  This is to wash away any negative things from your body before you offer up your prayers to Allah.  You must wash your feet, hands, ears, mouth, nose, eyes and forehead.  This ritual is almost like a baptism, just done every time before you pray.  Now, if a woman touches a man (other than a family member) between prayers or has said, heard or seen anything unholy, she must wash again before she prays (same goes for guys).  After you wash you go to your prayer room.  The first person will line up in the center of the room on the very first row.  Then, the next person will come and stand shoulder to shoulder until the first line is completely full in both directions and then a second row will be started.  Men and women do pray in separate rooms.  The point of this is to eliminate distractions while you are praying.  Prayer is done shoulder to shoulder so if a woman were to pray next to man who is not a family member and touch them, she and he would have to go wash again… so prayer is done separately.  Also, you will find that there are always more male prayer rooms than female prayer rooms.  There is a reason behind this as well.  Women do not technically have to pray at a mosque.  Since women are responsible for taking care of the family, they can pray at home where as men are encouraged to pray at a mosque with others.  Also, there are no “crying rooms” and your attention must be focused while praying, so bringing all your kids to a mosque and allowing them to distract others is considered rude.  Therefore, women prayer rooms are not as occupied at men’s.
This picture is of the main wall that faces Mecca in the largest prayer hall.  Two facts about this wall:
*It is all white and gold with no color, unlike the other three walls of this room.  All Mecca facing walls in mosques are supposed to be void of color so you will not be distracted while praying.
*the center niche was originally meant for the voice of the caller to project backwards to the other people praying since everyone must pray facing the same direction.  Now with microphones it is not really necessary.  This one also has ripples of white and gold from top to bottom symbolizing the rivers of milk and honey you will see in heaven. 
At the very center of the wall you will see the name of Allah written in Arabic.  It is also stated in the Quran that Allah has 100 names minus one as the last one is too great and you will only find out what it is on your judgement day.  These 99 names are attributes of Allah and they are carved into the wall surrounding the main name.  There is one blank area above the center name for that “minus one” name. 
This is one of four German made chandeliers consisting of only Swarovski crystals.  They are huge and literally weigh tons.  This picture shows the largest of the four.

I was standing at one end of the prayer halls looking towards the opposite end for this picture… this room is Ginormous!  You can see the room’s three huge chandeliers and the length of the total space.  The main facing wall is on the right and the back wall is on the left.  The four joined columns used to have a venting system what would suck the hot air out of the room and allow cool air that was caught by the domes to vent in.  However, nowadays everything is just air conditioned, but the traditional architecture is still used. 

Below these columns are flower mosaics made of glass and are lit up.  Beautiful!  You may have noticed that there are only words, floral and geometic shapes in the mosque… good eye!  You will never see images of people or animals in mosques because they are thought to be distracting and may take your focus away from what you are there to do… pray.  They are also seen as false idols.  For instance, if you are praying at home and your prayer wall has a picture of your family on it, you are supposed to turn the picture around so you have no diversions.  Makes sense, but is very different from a Christian church.  I can recall being mesmerized by the stain glass windows in churches during many a sermon, wedding and funeral.  Stain glass windows and sculptures did play a major role in Christianity in past centuries though.   They allowed illiterate worshipers to learn the stories of the bible though images and not through the written word.
This is the back wall of the main prayer room.
You can see that they are still working on the fountains that will surround the Mosque.

I will save you all my “Soap Box” speech but I feel very lucky to have seen this amazing Mosque and to be able to speak with many Muslim men and women.  I feel that the only way to truly understand what you personally believe in and for us all to coexist peacefully as a world, is to see where the other guy is coming from.  That does not mean I have to believe or accept it, but it educates me on the subject and allows me to form my own opinion.  I recently read a book called “God is Not One” by Stephen Prothero and it reviews the eight major religions of the world and talks about their differences.  He rejects the idea of the 1960’s and 70’s that we are all on different paths leading to the same God.  Even though there are similarities between most major religions, they are inherently different and knowing and understanding these differences is what will make us move peacefully into the future.  I am happy that I am getting to witness the Islamic world for myself and make my own opinions of it.  Islam is the world’s second largest religion behind Christianity and growing fast.  Billions of people believe in it and they are not all terrorist and/or suicide bombers so what makes them so passionate... that is what i want to know.  Now, I want us all to hold hands and sing kumbaya… just kidding!
Until later…


  1. Wow Hil! Thanks for sharing those pictures and all your commentary!

  2. Thanks so much for sharing Hillary. Beautiful and inspiring as usual!!

  3. The photography and information is WONDERFUL!! Thank you for sharing your life there with us!!! :)