x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

House of prayer transports faithful

A mosque in a neighbourhood between the two bridges in Abu Dhabi mimics a larger, much older one in Palestine.

A mosque in a neighbourhood between the two bridges in Abu Dhabi mimics a larger, much older one in Palestine.
A mosque in a neighbourhood between the two bridges in Abu Dhabi mimics a larger, much older one in Palestine.

ABU DHABI // Nestled among Bain Al Jessrain's stately villas and luxury hotels stands a replica of one of the world's most recognised and holiest of mosques, the Dome of the Rock.

Smaller in size but accurate to the tiniest detail, the golden dome that lies between the capital's two bridges pays homage to the one that towers over Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Built between 689 and 691 by Umayyad Caliph Abd Al Malik Ibn Marwan, the original dome is built over the rock where the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven in the "Night Journey".

That is the image worshippers embrace when they pray at this lookalike mosque in Bain Al Jessrain.

"When you come here, it feels like you are praying back in Palestine," says Hamad Al Harmoudi, 40, from Abu Dhabi.

The Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem are the third holiest sites in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

Mr Al Harmoudi and his friend, Khaled Al Maskari, 39, also from Abu Dhabi, come to pray at the mosque commonly called the one that "looks like the Dome of the Rock".

It is actually called Masjid Bini Hashem after the man who built it, Abdul Raheem Sayed Al Hashemi, whose home is across a tiny street from the mosque.

"It is such a beautiful mosque and truly captures the essence of the Dome of the Rock," says Mr Al Maskari.

The mosque was opened on the last two days of Ramadan last year. It is of a middle-Byzantine style, its walls covered with intricate Iznik panels of mainly blue and gold, and windows covered with floral and Islamic mosaics.

All throughout the house of worship are Quranic verses written in white calligraphy. The gold and glass lanterns inside are inscribed with the first verse of Surah Al-Isra, which refers to the journey made by the Prophet to Jerusalem.

The Quran says: "Glory to [Allah] who did take His servant for a journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless - in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who hears and sees [all things]."

Outside, on the grounds of the mosque, four open-air pillars with arches made of stone have been crafted to appear like the original ruins in Jerusalem. A sun dial on the pillars reminds worshippers of the time of day as they make their way through them.

The mosque can accommodate 1,000 worshippers and will hold special night prayers of taraweeh throughout Ramadan.

"I actually prefer simpler mosques because, while we wait for the prayer to start we end up getting distracted by all the designs inside instead of making duaa," says Mr Al Harmoudi.

He and Mr Al Maskari say the first few days of fasting are the toughest, but after that the body has adjusted.

"Ramadan is a great time to reconnect with Allah, and then with family and friends," Mr Al Maskari says. "It is one of the few times in the year where we have the best excuse to invite each other to iftar and spend time with our loved ones."

While it is relatively new, the worship centre has gained popularity as the neighbourhood mosque.

"Mainly Emiratis come here," says Sheikh Qassim Al Zahi, the imam of the mosque. "What makes this mosque unique is that it is quiet, away from busy roads and businesses. People come here to just be with Allah and clear their minds and souls."

Mosques have an important role as one form of a "sadaqa jariya", or continual charity that lasts beyond a lifetime.

"People often come to donate something to the mosque, be it a Quran or a prayer mat or beads, anything, to gain blessing and mercy from Allah," the imam says.

The Prophet Mohammed said: "Whoever builds for the Mighty and Majestic Allah a mosque, even a tiny humble nest, Allah builds for him a house in paradise."

Just a few steps from this mosque is a small grocery store, the Al Bahr Star Supermarket. Worshippers visit the store on their way to the mosque at sun set to break the fast and pray.

"Water - they come here and buy lots of water," says Abdul Majeed, working inside the store.

They also grab dates, fruits and croissants.

"People don't want to be late for prayers, so they buy what they need to break the fast, and then head home for a proper iftar," he says.

"In Islam, the mosque comes first, and then the stomach."

rghazal@thenational.ae