What is inside a prayer room? A look at the elegant spaces in the UAE

From the new prayer room in Yas Mall, to one in Dubai that can accommodate only three worshippers at a time

A space to pray: Inside the prayer room at Dubai's Courtyard

A space to pray: Inside the prayer room at Dubai's Courtyard
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Praying is an integral part of most religions. In Islam, many worshippers perform five prayers a day, with the first, fajr, starting at dawn, while the last, isha, done at night.

Where the daily prayers take place is not set in stone, though they ideally happen in a clean and quiet space. Consequently, many public arenas such as parks and malls have prayer rooms for worshippers on the go.

Prayer rooms have dedicated regulatory bodies – the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department in Dubai, for example – whose jurisdiction includes approving the creation of such a space. There are also certain parameters to meet to ensure the sanctity and purpose of the room.

The rooms come in various shapes and sizes. Some can accommodate more than 1,000 people – such as the one inside City Centre Al Zahia in Sharjah and the newly opened one in Yas Mall – while the one at The Courtyard in Al Quoz fits only three worshippers at once. Prayer rooms in malls tend to be bigger when compared to those in private offices.

Here, The National looks at the three main components of prayer rooms in the UAE.

Prayer area

The centrepiece of the room is the designated prayer area. Muslims pray on rugs or mats while facing the qibla, or the direction of the Kaaba, the black stone inside the Grand Mosque in Makkah. Most prayer rooms are already carpeted, so bringing individual prayer mats is a matter of choice.

Prayer rooms are fitted with a marker that indicates the qibla, whether it's a permanent fixture, a compass or a digital display. In more spacious rooms, there will be a carved qibla wall often with ornamental details, from geometric patterns to accent lighting. It is the focal point of prayer rooms, similar to a mihrab in mosques.

The Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department offers a free service and sends a team to accurately determine the qibla direction at any establishment.

Aside from the qibla, the main prayer area also has a digital display of the prayer timings. Some are more advanced than others, including the one at Ibn Battuta Mall where the digital display is accompanied by an automated sound of the adhan, or Islamic call to prayer. Some prayer areas will also include copies of the Quran and prayer beads, although these are optional to use.

Female worshippers are required to cover most of their bodies during prayer. Women-only prayer rooms are provided with isdal, a prayer dress for those not carrying their own.

Ablution area

Cleanliness is a crucial element of prayer and Muslims perform a ritual washing beforehand called wudu. Ideally, prayer rooms should have a separate ablution area with a few dedicated sinks or fountains. These typically have a low flow or a tap designed for the easy washing of hands, arms, face and feet.

Storage space

Prayer rooms, especially those with high traffic, offer storage such as shelves, hooks or small lockers for shoes and other personal belongings to keep them space and out of the way during prayers. Muslims remove their footwear when praying and some shoe racks are fitted with a form of ventilation to maintain cleanliness.

Prayer rooms are an important part of communities in the UAE and become busier during Ramadan when two additional prayers are performed, taraweeh and qiyam al layl.

Updated: March 22, 2024, 8:31 AM