Day One: The Most Beautiful Mosque in the World, Abu Dhabi

Note:Throughout spring break, I diligently recorded each day’s events in my journal. I’m typing them here with some additions and revisions, but mostly true to original form. Watch the date!

7 April 2012

Thirteen hour layover in Abu Dhabi? Yes, please! I was more than happy to get off the plane (turbulence, eerie Arabic cartoons) and head into the airport in Abu Dhabi at 4:45 in the morning. We hadn’t booked a hotel in advance, so we found one through the airport. We settled on the Centro, a decent joint about ten minutes from the airport. The short ride provided an equally short and curious view of Abu Dhabi via car window.

Prior to this trip, my knowledge of the capital city of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was limited to the second Sex and the City movie. Now, I could see clean, neatly organized roadways unfolding around us and a few towering buildings here and there. But otherwise, there was nothing. No hub, no central city. It was a strange place, indeed.

We spent the morning sleeping and decided to spend the afternoon by the pool. There weren’t many things on our agenda for Abu Dhabi. The only things I wanted to see were the beach and the mosque; the beach was out (it’s mainly private property) and the mosque is worth seeing at sundown. I was perfectly content with spending the day slathered in SPF 30 lounging around the pool where bikinis were not only permitted, but openly flaunted by scores of western tourists. I was thrilled and grateful for the pool, minus the annoying, unattended child flapping around after us.

Just before sunset, we hopped in an expensive cab and headed out to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Now, I’ve seen mosques before in both India and Turkey in addition to those in Egypt, but none even come close to this one. (Despite visiting and observing mosques, I do not consider myself an expert on mosques. However, I like to think I have a decent eye for aesthetics.)

Before entering, we had to cover up. I was expecting this, as I’d had to cover my head in Turkey and my entire body in a brightly colored gown in India, but I was not expecting the degree of concealment required here.

Susannah was quick to point out that I looked like a witch.

Not only did I don a too-long black gown that dragged along the floor as I walked, but I had to wrap my head in a heavy, inky drape to cover my hair. Because no one showed us how to effectively cover our heads, it was a fruitless endeavor; the thing kept slipping off of my head and regardless of how I wrapped it, my long hair kept sticking out. Susannah was scolded by a guard at one point for exposing her hair.

But it was worth it.

Pristine white pillars, colorful flower blossoms and vines exploding along the white tiles, columns laced with golden vine filigree. Pools and fountains. Perfectly domed ceilings. If the exterior was breathtaking, then the interior was heartstopping.



This mosque boasts the largest carpet in the world, and from the cavernous ceilings descend brilliant, vibrant chandeliers glittering with thousands of Swarovski crystals. The carved, looping filigree on the wall was eyecatching at first, but splendid when light from the setting sun filtered through it. The entire mosque was stunning in its beauty, which is surprising in itself; in India, we’d learned that Muslim architecture, specifically mosques, lacks ornate, intricate designs, as its creators favor simplicity. But here, in the middle of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque stands in beautiful defiance and salient peace.

We wandered for over an hour and would have remained for hours more, especially because I wanted to see the inside illuminated with moonlight, but we had a flight to catch.

The far east was waiting.

until next time

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