Masjid Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan

The majestic Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque is probably the most imposing religious and national landmark in Abu Dhabi to date. It is also arguably one of the most important architectural treasures of contemporary UAE society – and one of the most beautiful in the world – initiated no less by the late president HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who is fondly thought of as the father of the UAE.

First considerations to build the Mosque began in the late 1980s and much thought was given to its location and its design over the next decade. The initial architectural design was agreed upon and the inaugural cornerstone laid in the late 1990s.

The Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, popularly called the Grand Mosque by local residents, is seen as a construction to ‘unite the world’, using artisans and materials from countries such as Italy, Germany, Morocco, India, Turkey, Iran, China, Greece and the UAE. More than 3,000 workers and 38 renowned contracting companies took part in the construction of the Mosque.

The Mosque’s initial architectural design was Moroccan, but it evolved to include many global features, including exterior walls that are of traditional Turkish design. Natural materials were chosen for its design and construction due to their long-lasting qualities, including marble, stone, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics.

The 22,412 square metre Mosque site is equivalent to around the size of five football fields, and can accommodate 40,960 worshippers – 7,126 in the main prayer hall; 1,960 in the open prayer hall; 980 female worshippers in the open prayer hall female section; 22, 729 in the open Sahan (courtyard); 682 in the main prayer hall entrance and 784 in the mosque’s main hall entrance.

The Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque features 82 domes of Moroccan design and all decorated with white marble. The main dome’s outer shell measures 32.8 metres in diameter and stands at a height of 70 metres from the inside and 85 metres from the outside – the largest of its kind, according to the Turkey Research Centre for Islamic History and Culture.

The Mosque has approximately 1,000 columns in its outer areas which are clad with more than 20,000 marble panels inlaid with semi-precious stones, including lapis lazuli, red agate, amethyst, abalone shell and mother of pearl. The 96 columns in the main prayer hall are round in shape and inlaid with mother of pearl. Additionally, the Mosque has four beautiful minarets standing at almost 107 metres each at the four corners of the mosque.

Reflective pools, totaling 7,874 square metres and laden with dark tiles, surround the Mosque, whilst coloured floral marble and mosaics pave the 17,000 square metre courtyard which is decorated with white marble from Greece. The pools reflect the Mosque’s spectacular image, which becomes even more resplendent at night.

An equally impressive interior design complements the Mosque’s awesome exterior. Italian white marble and inlaid floral designs adorn the prayer halls and the Mosque’s interior walls have decorative gold-glass mosaic features, particularly delicate on the western wall. The main glass door of the Mosque is 12.2 metres high, 7 metres wide and weighs approximately 2.2 tonnes.

The main prayer hall features the world’s largest chandelier under the main dome – being 10 metres in diameter, 15 metres in height and weighing over nine tonnes. The Mosque’s seven gold-coloured chandeliers, from Germany, feature thousands of  Swarovski crystals from Austria and some glasswork from Italy, and cost about US$8.2 million (AED 30 million).

The main prayer hall can fit in around 7,126 worshippers and also features the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet. Designed by Iranian artist, Ali Khaliqi, the carpet was hand-crafted by 1,200 artisans in small villages near Mashhadin in Iran, a region renowned for its carpet making expertise. The artisans were flown to Abu Dhabi to stitch the carpet pieces together for the final fitting. Consisting of 2,268,000 knots, the Mosque’s carpet is estimated to be valued at US$8.2 million (AED 30 million).

The Qibla wall (facing the direction of the Holy City of Mecca) is 23 metres high and 50 metres wide, and is subtly decorated so as not to distract worshippers from prayer. Gold-glass mosaic has been used in the Mehrab (the niche found in the middle of the Qibla wall).

The 99 names (qualities) of Allah featured on the Qibla wall exemplify traditional Kufi calligraphy, designed by the prominent UAE calligrapher – Mohammed Mandi. The Qibla wall also features subtle fibre-optic lighting, which is integrated as part of the organic design.

In total, three separate calligraphy styles – Naskhi, Thuloth and Kufi – are used throughout the mosque and were drafted by Mohammed Mendi (UAE), Farouk Haddad (Syria) and Mohammed Allam (Jordan).

The Mosque has 80 Iznikpanels – highly decorated ceramic tiles popular in the 16th century – which feature distinctly in Istanbul’s imperial and religious buildings. Traditionally hand-crafted, each tile was designed by Turkish calligrapher Othman Agha.

28 different types of marble have been used throughout the Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, and include:-

* Sivec from Greece & Macedonia, used on the external cladding (a total of 115,119 square metres of cladding has been used on the Mosque, including the four minarets)

* Lasa from Italy, used in the internal elevations
* Makrana from India, used in the annexes and offices
* Aquabiana and Biano from Italy
* East White and Ming Green from China
The Mosque covers an area of 22,000 square meters. 33,000 tons of steel is being used in it.
It has 7000 foundation piles and has 120,000 cubic meter of concrete usage!