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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

There is much to celebrate as Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque turns 10

The house of worship is a testament to the values of tolerance and spirituality that helped build it

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Antonie Robertson / The National
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Antonie Robertson / The National

Its 82 luminous white marble domes are a landmark on the horizon, a signpost to visitors telling them that they have arrived in the UAE capital, or for residents, telling them they are home. No matter what your vantage point in the city or what time of day or night, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque never fails to take your breath away, whether it is dazzling in the midday sunshine or glowing ethereally at night, bathed in blue light. It is synonymous with the city and country it stands in, as well as the values of its namesake founder, whose final resting place lies in its grounds. As the mosque celebrates its 10th anniversary, it is time to remember how it has stood as a symbol of that unique mix of spirituality and openness that epitomises the UAE.

Spiritual because it is, first and foremost, a house of worship, open to Muslims from around the world, of whom 8,000 gather in the main prayer hall every Friday. And open because, like the UAE, which welcomes residents and visitors of all faiths, backgrounds and cultures, its doors are open to anyone who wants to find out more about Islam or to simply be amazed by one of the most recognisable and stunning buildings in the country. It was Sheikh Zayed’s vision to build the mosque and although he did not live long enough to see it completed, it is a beacon of the values of both Islam and the country which was founded on those principles – ones of tolerance, peace and charity, such as when the mosque feeds up to 35,000 every iftar during Ramadan.

More than five million people climb its marble steps every year to gaze in awe at its floral mosaics, arched colonnades and vast courtyard. Little wonder it has been named the world’s second favourite landmark on the travel website TripAdvisor, with “peaceful” and “beautiful” among the adjectives used most to describe it. It is at once both a place of devotion and a testament to the city which built it, with much to celebrate in each case.