With its golden, moon-shaped tips visible for kilometres, its pure white marble and eclectic architecture, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the most magnificent of all houses of worship in the Emirates.
As Ramadan begins, worshippers visit Sheikh Zayed Mosque to pray
ABU DHABI // With its golden, moon-shaped tips visible for kilometres, its pure white marble and eclectic architecture, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the most magnificent of all houses of worship in the Emirates.
Its architecture combines local, Persian, Indian, Turkish, Moroccan and Egyptian styles, and for many Muslims across the UAE it will be a second home throughout the holy month of Ramadan.
Days will be spent in fasting and charity; nights in prayer.
The Prophet Mohammed said: "Whoever purifies himself in his house then walks to one of the houses of Allah in order to perform one of the duties enjoined by Allah, for every two steps he takes, one will erase a sin and the other will raise him one degree in status."
And the further one walks to a mosque, the greater the reward.
Many will venture beyond their neighbourhood mosque to make their prayers at the worship centre named after the nation's founding father, with its architecture that combines local, Persian, Indian, Turkish, Moroccan and Egyptian styles.
"It is the first mosque you see when you enter Abu Dhabi Island and the last one as you leave it," says Talal Al Mazrouei.
As the director of events and activities at the Grand Mosque, Mr Al Mazrouei spends most of his days and nights there, making it his "first home".
"It is not just a place of worship but a place of education, discovery, tolerance and a meeting point for people of all walks of life," he says.
Since it opened in 2007, the mosque has become one of the most visited places in the UAE, and one of two mosques in the Emirates open to visits by non-Muslims. The other is the Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai.
It is from the Grand Mosque that the call to prayer, the adhan, is broadcast across Abu Dhabi city, bonding worshippers there with those in other mosques. It is also the official mosque where Eid prayers take place.
The mosque will host a series of programmes during Ramadan, including daily lessons on the Quran by the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Centre, and acts of charity, where 30,000 free iftars will be given out daily throughout the holy month to "anyone and everyone".
"The iftar programme is in honour of Sheikh Zayed and his vision," Mr Al Mazrouei says.
This Ramadan, four prominent reciters of the Quran have been invited to lead the taraweeh night prayers there.
The first 10 nights of Ramadan will be led by Sheikh Abdul Wali Al Arkani, a graduate of the Dar Al Arqam ibn Abi Arqam in the Haram Sharif in Mecca, who has led worshippers in several mosques in Saudi Arabia and abroad.
The other reciters will include Sheikh Nasser Al Qatami, Sheikh Yasser Al Dosari and Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al Harthi.
One worshipper and her family went to the Grand Mosque yesterday on the eve of Ramadan for the first taraweeh prayer of the month.
"Gates of mercy are open starting from sunset on Ramadan eve and so I wanted to make the most of this month by starting my dedication as early as possible," said Fatima Al Ali, 36, from Abu Dhabi. "We rush to all other appointments, why not an appointment with Allah?"
Built with a message in mind, "a mosque that unites the world", the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has used artisans and materials such as gold, semi-precious stones and crystals from countries including Italy, Morocco, India, Turkey, Iran, China and Greece.
It took more than 3,000 workers and 38 renowned contracting companies to build the mosque, in line with the vision of the founding President.
One of the largest in the world, the Grand Mosque can accommodate 40,960 worshippers.
It is fitted with seven chandeliers that have more than 1 million Swarovski crystals. Its floor is adorned with one of the world's largest prayer carpets, hand-knitted by 1,200 weavers in Mashhad, Iran.
It has 1,000 columns in its outer areas that are clad with more than 20,000 marble panels inlaid with semi-precious stones, including lapis lazuli, red agate and amethyst, along with abalone shell and mother of pearl.
Four Moroccan and Andalusian- style minarets at each corner of the mosque stand at 107 metres tall.
One of the first major events to take place at the mosque was the funeral of Sheikh Zayed, on November 3, 2004.
With his final resting place on its grounds, it will forever remain a symbol of the founding father's vision.