Mosque tours to give visitors new insight into Ramadan

Sheikh Zayed mosque will encourage tourists to visit during September to gain a fuller understanding of holy month's traditions.
Visitors will be able to enjoy an escorted tour of the Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque throughout the holy month.
Visitors will be able to enjoy an escorted tour of the Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque throughout the holy month.

ABU DHABI // Tours of the Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque during Ramadan will include information about the holy month's traditions and meanings. The tours would explain how to break the fast, the meaning of the holiday and the importance of zakat, or charity, said Kathryn Ogilvie, a spokesman for the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA).

"These tours will have a special significance because they will take place during Ramadan," she said. The mosque opened during Ramadan last year and began offering weekday tours to non-Muslims in February. One of the largest of its kind outside Mecca, the mosque has become one of the most popular attractions in the capital with thousands of visitors taking advantage of the tour. "Tour guests, whether residents or visitors, will be able to gain a better understanding of Ramadan through the guides, and the mosque is a totally appropriate setting for this cultural dialogue," said Nasser al Reyami, the director of tourism standards at the ADTA.

The tours will be held from 10am on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout Ramadan, which is expected to begin on Sept 1. Visitors must wear modest clothing and women will have to cover their heads. Those who wore shorts or skirts that revealed their legs would not be allowed to participate in the 90-minute tour, said Ms Ogilvie. Almost all of the tours are conducted by Emiratis, who will be available to answer questions about the mosque, Islam and Ramadan.

The mosque, the final resting place of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, the founder of the nation, is one of the city's most impressive structures and its architecture has attracted international interest. Located between Airport Road and Khaleej al Arabi Street, it covers 22,500 square metres. Planning started in the 1980s, but it took another 10 years before the mosque's design and location were finalised.

The first cornerstone was laid in the 1990s and artists and materials were brought in from Italy, Germany, Morocco, India, Turkey, Iran, China and Greece. Construction took another decade and the final cost has been estimated at around Dh2 billion (US$544 million). The mosque has 82 Moroccan-inspired domes. The central dome is 32.8 metres in diameter and 70 metres high, making it the largest in the world, according to Turkey's Research Centre for Islamic History and Culture.

A total of 40,960 people can pray in the mosque, which is equal in size to five football fields. The mosque is also home to the world's largest Persian carpet, a red, 7,119 square metre masterpiece that required the work of 1,200 artists from Mashhad in Iran. The carpet contains more than two million knots, weighs 35 tonnes and cost Dh30m. It was shipped to Abu Dhabi and hand-stitched and fitted in the mosque.

The structure also contains seven German chandeliers, the largest of which is made with more than one million Swarovski crystals. "While the sheer architectural splendour of the mosque is one consideration which encourages visitors, many of the questions raised by those taking part are focused on the traditions of the UAE and of Muslim worship," said Mr Reyami. The mosque tours also provided a forum for non-Muslims from western countries to learn about the religion, he said.

"We believe that the tours in Ramadan will take on added appeal as an avenue of comprehending the most significant month in Islam." Tours must be booked in advance by emailing zayedmosquetour@adta.ae. @Email:jgerson@thenational.ae

Published: August 25, 2008 04:00 AM

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