ABU DHABI // The country's largest mosque is increasing the number of tours it offers to the public from next month, following a record number of visitors during the Eid holiday.
From December 1, tours of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi will be available at 10am, 11am and 5pm on weekdays, 2pm, 5pm and 8pm on Fridays and at 10am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm and 8pm on Saturdays.
Twenty Emirati tour guides were needed to work almost full-time last week to cater for the increased number of visitors, both Muslim and non-Muslim. Last Wednesday, 26,064 visitors were shown around the mosque, the highest number recorded since tours began in 2008. Typically, between 5,000 and 7,000 people take the tours on a single day.
"It is like the Taj Mahal," said Michelle Sabti, the head of visitor services. "It is one of those places in the country which people want to visit. They come from all around just to see this place.
"This is a spiritual place and it has a certain tranquility to it. Many love to come, even from different Emirates especially to feel and see [it].".
Visitors taking the 50-minute tours have the chance to ask their guides questions related to the mosque and Arabic heritage.
"It is important that the guides are Emirati for face-to-face interactions with visitors to reflect the culture of the country," said Ms Sabti.
Although the tours usually start with around 10 people, she said that "by the end of the tour, there are a lot more people who just join in. We never turn anyone down."
This week the guides will have a special guest, as Queen Elizabeth II is scheduled to visit the mosque during her second trip to the UAE. She, like every other woman, will be expected to were appropriate clothing.
"The Queen is very respectful of all other cultures, in her visit to Turkey, she wore a headscarf," Ms Sabti said.
"Even people who are fully dressed like to wear the clothes, especially the kandouras; it is all part of the experience."