As Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque turns ten, we take a look at its history and why it has become a cornerstone of our community
Whoever you are and wherever you’re from, it’s pretty hard to forget that first time you caught sight of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. With its dazzling marble minarets and domes, floral mosaics and gold accents that glint in the desert sunlight, it’s no wonder.
As it’s set to turn ten years old, it’s clear that Sheikh Zayed’s vision for the amazing structure has only grown with age.
We take a look at the iconic building’s history and fundamental role beyond a place of religious worship in our community.
The vision of Sheikh Zayed
When it opened on 20th December 2007 for its first prayers, the mosque had already been in the making for over ten years.
The founding father had a clear idea of what he wanted right from the start.
With the goal of combining old with new, his vision was to create an architectural wonder that combined the cultural diversity of the Islamic world with modern and traditional art and architectural styles, and a place where all were invited to visit.
Working from a design by Syrian architect Yousef Abdelky, ground was broken on the site in 1996, and over the next 11 years the mosque’s structure began to take shape with 82 distinctive domes hewn from white marble, over 1,000 columns, gold accents and swirling calligraphy.
Right from its very construction, the mosque became a symbol for unity. With artisans and craftsmen coming together from all over the world, including Italy, Germany, Morocco and Syria, as the structure rose out of the ground, it was a collaboration on a global scale.
A symbol of tolerance
It’s far more than the sum of its parts as a place of religious worship – and equipped with a library and visitors’ centre since its inception, it was designed that way by the late ruler.
A symbol of unity, education, culture and tolerance, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has come to represent a deeper dialogue on the Islamic arts and heritage that are so integral to the people of the UAE.
“It delivers so much to people – both those that live in the UAE and the visitors. It’s not just a mosque,” reflects Noura Al Mubarak, co-curator of the Hajj: Memories of a Journey exhibition located in the mosque’s grounds, running until 18th March.
“Throughout his lifetime, Sheikh Zayed promoted a culture of tolerance,” she adds. “To
him, tolerance was evidence of a nation’s vitality and proof of its ability to grow and progress. That’s exactly what the Grand Mosque symbolises.”
In turn, the mosque’s full programme of tours, educational workshops and cultural activities open to all underscores its message more deeply.
“The mosque provides cultural, social and philanthropic programmes of activities that highlight tolerant Islamic culture, and it also aims to enhance the coexistence between the nations,” Noura agrees. “It fulfils this vision through these unique narratives – that’s what’s so special about it.”
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is free to visit, with daily tours provided from 10am Saturday to Thursday and from 4.45pm on Friday.
General visiting hours Sat–Thu 9am–10pm, Fri 4.30pm–10pm. For more information, visit: szgmc.ae