Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 September 2019

Unique mosque brings modernism and echoes of Iraq to Abu Dhabi neighbourhood

The place of worship draws inspiration from the Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq

In Mohamed bin Zayed City there is a place of worship that certainly attracts attention.

There, among the schools, villas and expanses of sand, is Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak mosque.

The building is clad in red terracotta tiles with a spiral minaret that soars over the Abu Dhabi neighbourhood, drawing inspiration from the Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq.

The Spiral Minaret of the Great Mosque is pictured in Samarra, March 15, 2015. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani (IRAQ - Tags: SOCIETY RELIGION)
The Spiral Minaret of the Great Mosque in Samarra, Iraq. Thaier Al-Sudani / Reuters

Mohamed bin Zayed city is a sprawling, dusty suburb of apartment blocks, cafes, laundries, schools and hospitals. It is an area in transition with vast plots of land waiting to be developed, to which the mosque has now brought a modernist flourish.

It is a peaceful and traditional building. The minarets are not like this in Kerala.

Jamaludheen Kottilingalthodi

Glass walls bring in light to the prayer hall while a traditional concrete dome is eschewed in favour of a swirling upward cone with windows. It manages to combine heritage and modernity in one.

“This is a very rare style of dome,” said Dr Mohamed El Amrousi, who lectures in architecture at Abu Dhabi University. “There are some examples in Anatolia, Turkey, of conical domes but this is a modernist touch.”

The Great Mosque in Iraq was built in the 9th century when Samarra, a city on the Tigris north of Baghdad, was capital of the Abbasid Empire in the golden age of Islam.

Its 52-metre minaret has a stepped design – so people can walk up around the outside. The style is said by some to be derived from ziggurats – a pre-Islamic Mesopotamian style of architecture of terraced compounds.

The Sheikh Fatima mosque has flickers of this design. Its minaret twists upwards, while the tile cladding takes its cues from traditional Iraqi buildings.

“The use of terracotta tiles on Sheikha Fatima mosque is inspired by mud-brick architecture, which is very specific to the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers,” Dr El Amrousi said.

Outside is a garden with palm trees where people can enjoy quiet reflection. And when The National visited just before maghrib prayer, hundreds were waiting to break their fast at the iftar tent. The harsh white heat of the day had given way to a mellow pink and many spoke of how peaceful the mosque is.

“There is no mosque like this, perhaps only Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque,” said Jamaludheen Kottilingalthodi, an Indian citizen who was waiting to break his fast with a simple meal of dates, biryani and laban. “It is a peaceful and traditional building. The minarets are not like this in Kerala.”

Ummer Sabeeh lives in Ajman but visits Abu Dhabi for work. “When I first came here I did not realise it was a mosque but maybe a museum,” said Mr Sabeeh, 28, from Kerala “There is so much glass and the design is different.”

The mosque also has green credentials. The terracotta cladding absorbs sunlight and can cool the interior by a few degrees.

“The tiles reduce the dependency on air conditioning,” said Dr El Amrousi.

Majeed Pulikkal, 41, from Bangalore, who had just walked out from the prayer hall deep in contemplation. “I didn’t think it was a mosque at first,” said Mr Pulikkal, 41, who was about to break his fast.

“But light comes in from the glass sides and through the ceiling. There you feel at peace.”

Updated: May 28, 2019 09:16 AM