From caravan to beloved house of prayer

In 2006, new neighbours in the town of Hatta decided to create a mosque. Its successor is a lot less rudimentary and every bit as cherished.

The changing landscape of Hatta, with the Sheikha Maitha mosque nestled in the background.
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HATTA, DUBAI // The neighbourhood surrounding Sheikha Maitha bint Rashid Al Maktoum Mosque seems more like a city suburb than a mountain town.

Commonly referred to as New Hatta Village, the mosque and the identical villas that surround it are painted in the same sandy hue and attached by a network of smoothly surfaced roads and brickwork pavements, studded with young palms.

It's all part of a new-style Hatta, one that retains elements of tradition but adds the comforts of modern life.

The peaceful village has boomed in the past five years, thanks in part to generous government programmes.

"Now Hatta's good. It's a developed village," says Mohammed Al Bidwawi, 38. "I have a hospital, I have a new car, I have a new mall - I have everything.

"The old mosque's only a tourist attraction. For all Friday prayers we go here. This is not a famous mosque but it's the best mosque."

And it reflects the riches and modernity of the new town well.

Workers keep the mosque in pristine condition with polished tile floors, sparkling windows and sliding doors, and spotless carpets.

Vast corridors are bathed in light, broken only by the shadows of the mosque's latticed windows. It is the architecture of the new UAE: spacious, clean and luxurious.

But the Sheikh Maitha mosque had much more humble beginnings.

It was started by its current muezzin, Ahmed Al Hashemi, a father of six with a bushy black beard who performs the call to prayer.

Mr Al Hashemi says his family was the third to move to the area when it was built in 2006.

But a neighbourhood without a mosque was no neighbourhood at all, so Mr Al Hashemi and his friends set up a caravan opposite their houses and each neighbour brought something to turn it into a house of prayer: carpets, Qurans, a microphone, and a little electrical know-how.

"We got an imam from Bangladesh," said Mr Al Hashemi. "He only worked one month then he said, 'I'm going to Al Ain'."

Mr Al Hashemi did not give up. He took on the role of imam until the Sheikha Maitha mosque was completed seven months later.

A new imam arrived from overseas and Mr Al Hashemi was free again to enjoy his retirement from the army.

But he didn't rest long. Although he would not lead the prayer, friends urged him to continue making the call to prayer, or adhan. He didn't hesitate.

"I made adhan without fear, none at all," says Mr Al Hashemi. "Every Muslim can read adhan. There's no problem for this. Prayer is the relaxation of the heart."

With these words, as if on cue, the adhan application on a friend's iPhone reminds him he is due at the mosque to announce the next prayer.

Mr Al Hashemi's call to prayer is muffled by the air conditioning and televisions inside the new houses.

Even so, a few minutes after his voice boomed from speakers on the angular minaret, women appear from their houses and walk to the light of the mosque's conical domes.

Men congregate at the mosque 20 minutes later, driving across the street in their Nissan Patrols.

For taraweeh prayers there are just enough men for one row of worshippers in the immense hall.

Most activity is hidden from view in the adjacent women's prayer hall.

Although a fraction of the size of the men's hall, the simple white room holds twice as many worshippers during taraweeh prayers.

"This mosque made a big difference for us, especially for women," says Maryam Hamdan, 23.

"Before, the caravans were only for men."

Aisha Saeed, 39, says: "I am here every day for six years. This is the house of God on Earth.

"Some women just come for Ramadan but I love this mosque like it's my baby, like it's my son."