Abu Dhabi is a place of contrasts, shaped by desert and sea, with a sense of timelessness and unity that somehow bridges tradition and 5,000 years of rich history with the cosmopolitan luxuries of modern progress. It is at once exotic and urbane, and seemingly the pinnacle of modern Islamic culture, just as Cordoba and Granada were in Moorish Spain some 1100 years ago.

Abu Dhabi draws you in, engaging all your senses, weaving a spell. The smoky perfume of shisha from hookahs swirls softly at a Bedouin camp at a desert oasis, where the night is as hauntingly still and full of stars as it was a thousand years ago.  Just over the horizon, Abu Dhabi city’s mirrored skyscrapers soar heavenward, reflecting the sun. Pearling dhows from Abu Dhabi’s fishing village past share the turquoise waters with huge luxury yachts. And, not far from the Christian churches and Jewish synagogues of this multi-cultural community stands one of the world’s largest and most magnificent mosques. 

Tower of Grand Mosque

An oasis of architectural and spiritual art in the heart of Abu Dhabi, UAE

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – World and Times Collide

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a blend of Arab, Persian, Mughal and Moorish architectural styles. Consequently, it fuses the diverse Islamic world with art and beauty. The design and construction also unites the world, using artisans and materials from many countries, including Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, Turkey, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, China, New Zealand, Greece, and the United Arab Emirates. It symbolizes the true meaning and purpose of diversity. Once there, you find yourself in a space-time frame where you know we are all the same, and that all our hearts are connected, beating in unison.

Wherever you go, go with all your heart. – Confucius

Floating like an ethereal vision or shimmering mirage above sky-blue pools, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is all blinding white marble and gold, symbolizing the milk and honey of paradise. It beckons you to enter a world of peace and harmony and beauty, all in praise of God.   The muezzin’s hauntingly melodic adhan, thecall to prayer, echoes across the shimmering white courtyard, transporting you to another place. Out of time, freed from the worries, cares and rush of the modern world.

As you step into the arcade surrounding the sahan, the grand courtyard, a thousand marble columns topped by golden palm leaves create the ordered orchard of a fairy-tale oasis. Looking between the rows of glowing white marble pillars inlaid with upward reaching flowers of semi-precious stones, you see in the distance what might be mistaken for a doorway to heaven.

Glowing Hall

A golden glow of light streaming through the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE

A Sumptuous Interior

Once inside the grand prayer hall, the colors become more subdued. Hence, they create an atmosphere of peace and stillness essential to worship. Therefore, the walls, arches and domes are covered with white marble carved in intricate floral lace patterns. Those appear to glow from within. Three immense crystal and gold chandeliers fill the hall with shafts of primary-colored light. Amidst all the grandeur, you find yourself at once calm, and filled with a sense of wonder, awe and reverence.

Gazing out across the sahan, look heavenward and see the improbably delicate, pencil-thin minarets in each corner.  The minarets (“beacon” in Arabic) recall the past, when muezzins called the faithful to prayer from their heights, but today, since the adhan is sung in the prayer hall and broadcast via speaker, they serve as  “landmarks of Islam,” visible from afar.

Mosaic Flower

A piece of art on the floor of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE

Feel the mosque’s white marble tiles, cool beneath your feet, decorated with marble mosaics in hundreds of geometric floral designs. This represents Islam as an international faith. On the courtyard floor, huge vines and  flowers, mostly irises, tulips, lilies and roses, sprawl exuberantly; in the main prayer hall, flowers decorating  floors, walls and columns come from the Middle East; at the north entrance are flowers of the northern hemisphere; and at the south entrance, from the southern hemisphere.

Golden Emirates Palace

Golden night view of the famous Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi, UAE

Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi – Crown Jewel of Hotels

The 7-star Emirates Palace hotel provides ordinary mortals with an immersion into luxuries once reserved only for royalty. Glowing sandy-gold in the sunshine, Emirates Palace rises majestically above green gardens and a dazzling white beach. Public spaces gleam with gold. You can indulge in gold drizzled chocolates or coffee sprinkled with 24 carat gold leaf, or spend a late afternoon simply watching the sun set over a drink or light meal. After dark, the golden lights and illuminated domes of Emirates Palace stand out against the night sky. Time, for a moment, stands still, and the hustle and bustle of the city fade away.