x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

On E11, the road to worship

Muslims travelling along the Abu Dhabi-Dubai Road can stop for prayers at mosques along the highway, including one near an Adnoc station close to the halfway mark between the two cities.

The mosque Al Samha is built in cascades of alternating rows of rough rock and sleek bricks. Many call it “the one in the middle.”
The mosque Al Samha is built in cascades of alternating rows of rough rock and sleek bricks. Many call it “the one in the middle.”

Muslims driving along the E11 motorway connecting Abu Dhabi with Dubai need not wait until they reach home to pray: some of the most beautiful mosques in the Emirates line this busy road.

Aside from signs directing motorists to the nearest petrol stations, expect to see notices at regular intervals pointing drivers to the nearest "Jamaa" or mosque.

Certain areas have more than one house of worship near the motorway, including Shahama, Al Bahia and Ghantoot.

Commuters can also use the various Adnoc petrol station mosques, which are simple white structures that have no distinct design.

One of the popular mosques along this stretch of road is the beige, sandy-coloured mosque in Al Samha, just behind one of the busiest petrol stations on the motorway. Many call it "the one in the middle".

The "middle" refers to the mosque's approximate location, halfway between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It is also marked as the "rest area". The rest area includes an Adnoc station and its store, along with a food court and an Adnoc mosque.

However, many end up taking the few extra steps, or driving, to the more majestic mosque just behind the petrol station's basic mosque.

Opened in 2002, the Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan mosque is built in cascades of alternating rows of rough rock and sleek bricks. It has an arcade of arches supported by slender columns along its exterior, a design commonly found in mosques of the Umayyad period (661-750) such as the Great Mosque of Damascus.

"It is very easy to get it, straight from the highway, in and out," said Mohammed Ahmad, 44, a lorry driver from Pakistan, who regularly stops at this mosque on his trips.

"To reach other mosques along the highway, you have to go really inside an area, and sometimes you get lost or stuck in traffic," he said. "For me, this is luxury. I love this mosque."

Spacious enough to accommodate up to 1,000 worshippers, the mosque has red-and-gold carpet across its floor. Inside the mosque is a white and yellow colour theme, with three sparkling crystal chandeliers as a light source.

Its windows are covered with an intricate geometric interlace of various shapes and sizes.

Along the brims of its three domes, with the central one being larger than the other two, are coloured glass windows with floral designs made of purple and red octagonal shapes and blue triangles.

Eyes are drawn to the mihrab, the niche found in the middle of the Qibla wall, with its distinct sharp colours of black and white.

"It is a great family mosque, as the woman section is comfortable," said Sumia Al Quriashi, of Saudi Arabia, who came to pray at the mosque with her husband and two children as they were making their way to Abu Dhabi.

The women's section is in the main prayer hall, cordoned off with wooden barriers. It allows women to join in prayer with the men and listen to the Imam in person, instead of listening to him from speakers that transmit his words to a separate room.

Travellers who end up praying inside the mosques along the motorway have an additional benefit: the mosques remind worshippers to make the "travel duaa", prayers specifically asking for safety and blessing on the trip.

"We are reminded of this duaa as we leave to our cars, we sometimes forget to repeat it because we didn't take a break on the road and take our safety for granted," said Rashid Al Hamad, of Dubai, who was on his way to a business meeting in Abu Dhabi when he made a stop at one of the mosques.

He ended up inspiring others to say this duaa as they overheard his recitation as he was heading to his car.

For Ramadan, some of the mosques have tents erected on their premises. There, water and dates are available for anyone who comes to the mosque at the break of the fast.

As well as pray, travellers can take a welcome break from the road and seek refuge inside one of the mosques or in the shade of their gardens. Besides commuters, tour and pilgrimage buses also end up making a stop at the mosque.

A handful of employees from Adnoc also could be seen making their prayers at the Sheikh Sultan mosque.

"Every kind of nationality and background has come here at least once to pray," said Sheikh Nour Al Deen Al Nour, the muezzin.

"By just standing here and praying, I ended up meeting people from every corner of the world," he said.

Regardless of its design and location, the muezzin stressed the importance of the mosque as a "house of Allah".

"A mosque is a gate between a worshipper and Allah, the closest spot on earth where you can reach the Almighty," he said.

rghazal@thenational.ae