The Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi, UAE
As usual with these packaged tours, you must typically get up early, especially if you want to have coffee and breakfast. We did rise early, ate a decent breakfast in our hotel and drank a few cups a delicious coffee. Our tour bus was waiting in front of the hotel at the appointed time and as usual, we wound our way through horrendous traffic to reach the other two hotels to pick up other people in our tour group. We lost a huge chunk of time in just gathering all the people that were scattered in hotels all around town.
As we drove to each hotel it was easy to notice a smog-like brown haze that was partially concealing the massive Dubai skyline. It looked like Los Angeles in the smog-filled summertime. As we picked up the last of our tour group a slight wind came up perpendicular to our bus as we traveled along a nice highway towards Abu Dhabi.
Dubai and the UAE take pride in their distinct and unique architecture
The wind grew stronger and the light brown haze of finely blowing sand began to obstruct our view, making it difficult to see more than 100 yards beyond the bus. The sandstorm began to blow harder and the bus, not being very aerodynamic, began to sway from the strong wind. The blowing sand was so fine that you could not hear it as it blew against our large vehicle. As we neared the Grand Mosque near Abu Dhabi the blowing sand diminished somewhat, and we were treated to clear blue skies.
The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi
The Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the country, and the third largest in the world is the key place of worship for Friday gathering and Eid prayers. During Eid, it may be visited by more than 41,000 people. It was built using artisans and materials from around the world at a cost of about US$545 million. The project was launched by the late president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who wanted to establish a structure that would unite the cultural diversity of the Islamic world with the historical and modern values of architecture and art. His final resting place is located on the grounds adjacent to the complex.
They are quite strict regarding proper attire in the mosque
The dress code, although somewhat rather ridiculous by western standards, is however appropriate for visiting a place of religious worshiping. If you are visiting the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, you need to have a very conservative dress attire. For men and women, your legs and arms need to be covered – no shorts or skirts above the ankle are allowed. Additionally, your clothes should not be tight fitting – this is not the place for yoga pants!
Ensure that the fabric of your clothes is opaque as well, as see-through garments are inappropriate in this religious environment. Nida had on a simple, white cotton shirt which our guide insisted that she cover with a long black Abaya (long black dress and a black scarf that covered nearly her entire face). We all had to remove our shoes and I was worried that someone would take my tennis shoes and I would be left to walk around the rest of the day in my socks!
The proper attire for women:
Our guide ensured that the women in our group were properly attired before we entered the mosque. She even had extra Hijab’s, the traditional Arabian headdress, that she handed out for the women in our group to use.
The mosque was quite impressive and a wonder to see. The architecture is literally breathtaking as are the mosaics, chandeliers and massive columns. The place is jam-packed full of tourists but doesn’t feel crowded. Men start the tour at one entrance, and the women at another yet somehow you meet your partners and begin a stroll through the vast corridors and columns.
The building is massive and surrounded in several places by large blue-tiled pools of shallow depth. You pass along quickly as ushers insist that you keep moving and do not linger too long at any specific location. In what seems like too short of time, we are outside and walking to the tour bus. To have just a little longer to take it all in would have been great. It is so beautiful and so impressive. I felt honored to be able to enter this magnificent place.
After leaving the Grand Mosque, our next destination was the actual city of Abu Dhabi where we stopped to find lunch on our own at a massive shopping mall. We found a Carrefour store that had anything you could possibly want for lunch. Nida found Filipino food and I ate some sort of egg salad sandwich which was actually quite good. We ate our lunch near a large fountain and spent our time people watching. Others spent their time shopping.
After lunch, our tour group was reorganized and soon we were back on the bus heading toward yet another cultural village. As we drove along, some lady on our bus, who had decided to go shopping during our lunch break, came down the aisle of the bus and asked our tour guide to turn the bus around so that she could return some article of clothing that she had bought back at the mall! It seems that she had mistakenly purchased men’s clothing and wanted to take it back to exchange them! Our tour guide told her that she would hail a cab for her at our next stop, where she could take it back to the mall. If she made it back to the bus, good, if not, she was on her own to find her way back to Dubai.
At the cultural center I photographed a camel and his charge but by now have grown tired of this fake entertainment. The lady who had errantly purchased men’s clothing had made it back just before the bus left and we were headed back toward Dubai. I was anxious to get back to Dubai. But this leg of the tour was not over as we stopped at Ferrari World, a place dedicated to Formula racing and Ferrari cars in general. We couldn’t stay long so we just walked around, looked at some of the cars and souvenirs, and I was surprised to see a Boca di Beppo restaurant in the complex. We have one in Sacramento and it is one of my favorite Italian restaurants.
Below: The sheik’s portrait made entirely out of postage stamps
Below, some of the high-power cars at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi
We finally began our drive back to Dubai, hit more traffic than expected and we literally inched our way on a very wide boulevard/highway as the traffic lights took forever to change. We obviously had to drop other tour members off at their hotel and I was getting nervous as we had a dinner date planned with our nieces and nephews this evening. I was going batty sitting in the standstill traffic and worried that we would be late. Finally, we made it back to the hotel where we changed into proper attire and took a very speedy taxi to the restaurant.
Dubai has been on my bucket list for quite some time, however, Abu Dhabi or for that matter the Grand Mosque were not, simply because I had not heard of them until I started to do research for our trip to Dubai. They were both, coincidently, part of the overall tour that we had booked with the tour group Gate 1. I am thankful that they were as I really enjoyed this part of our Dubai tour. To me, the Grand Mosque, although not as significant as the Great Mosque of Mecca, is nonetheless a spritual center for the Muslim faith, as much as the Vatican is to Catholics and the Temple at Salt Lake City is to the LDS faith.
I realize that no everyone is interested in religion and religious temples, however, to understand our fellow human beings, one must also understand their beliefs. And although Mother Nature is the spiritual leader of my faith, I respect everyone’s right to worship who or what they want.
It had been a most interesting day and I was honored to add a few more drops in the bucket.
All photographs are the copyright of Jim Jackson Photography. Please contact me for authorization to use or for signed, high-resolution copies.