Sheikh Zayed Mega Mosque
This paper will discuss the construction of a Mega Sheikh Zayed Mosque, its founder, and its location in Abu Dhabi city, in UAE. It will also regard the application of different concepts and architectural designs that the mosque combines, the descriptive analysis of it, its structure, construction, and the achievements made with time. Managers of the mosque undertook crucial steps in order to realize the vision of the founder. Finally, the paper addresses the pillars of Islamic religious faith.
The building of Sheikh Zayed Mega Mosque began in 1995 and ended only in 2007. The construction started in the reign of the late President and Sheikh of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (Dutta,2005). He wanted to make a structure that would unite the cultural diversity of Muslims all over the world by using the historical and modern architecture styles along with the art while constructing the grand mosque. The mosque lies approximately on 22,000 square meters, which makes it the eighth biggest mosque worldwide and the largest in the United Arab Emirates (Kessler, 2016). The mosque can accommodate more than 40,000 people, and since it is the largest mosque in the country, it is the primary place of worship for Friday and Ramadan prayers (Dutta, 2005). The mosque serves as a religious and national icon built in a desert. Its construction took approximately 12 years, but finally the grand vision has become a reality. The construction was a massive and complex international effort that involved various countries, such as Britain, India, Bangladesh, and Filipinos.
His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan served as the president of the UAE from 1971 until his death in 2004 (Dutta, 2005). It is difficult to understand the Emirates development without understanding the Sheikh’s deep religious faith and vision, his dedication to hard work and service to people. He was the youngest son of His Highness Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and in his youthful age, he travelled all over the country to know more about the people. The Arab Emirates was a poor country, and there was no education in 1946, when Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was chosen as a representative of Abu Dhabi. His leadership embraced the concepts of discussion and harmony, and his decisions were based on insight, fairness, and knowledge. (AbulQaraya, 2015). He believed in the philosophy of using the country resources for the benefit of the people, including women, who excelled academically during his reign. Due to his deep Islamic religious, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan had a vision of a grand place of worship in the UAE, which commenced construction under his leadership, though he died before its completion. The mosque acquired his name, and his remains were buried beside the mosque.
The Grand Mosque is located in Abu Dhabi, an island on the eastern side of the coast of Arabian Peninsula boarding Saudi Arabia. It is the largest of the seven Emirates and also the most profitable. The mosque construction required the demolishment of a city wall, as there was not enough space to accommodate this magnificent structure. Also, the opposite side of the city was not developed, and thus provided the required space for a huge construction. The mosque is 9.5 meters above the street level, elevated in order to enhance its physical and visual dominance and to be visible from all sides (Melotti, 2014). It assumed the name of the founder who was the first President of UAE and who chose the place for the construction. Thus, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s ideas were important in the design and architecture of the mosque. The mosque is 11 meters above the sea level, located between Maqta and Mussafah Bridges (Melotti, 2014).
The construction of the grand mosque required a public undertaking to ensure that the final result was spectacular and magnificent. It is the world’s largest chandelier, which gives it a crowning glory of the main prayer hall, with the largest carpet. The design was influenced by other renowned architectural buildings, such as Moorish and Arab Mughal, and especially the Badashi mosque in Pakistan, with dome and plants. Its arches were borrowed from Moorish while the minarets are mainly of Arab origin. The construction was not just a race against time, but rather an attempt to make time freeze. It had a reinforcement of 30,000 tons of best software, equipment, and machinery (Kessler, 2016). The huge structure was built to last and should survive many centuries. The mosque has beautiful layers of covering starting from the entrance, with the purest marbles in the world. The search for these finest white marbles extended up to Italy, Macedonia, and China. There are unique concepts in the construction of both interior and exterior.
Interior Design Concept
The lighting was a crucial element, needed in order to give the complex structure and interior design some coherence. The materials used were quite sensitive, so the light sources were incorporated in caves, edges, behind the curved latticework, and niches. The aim was to maximize the appearance of lightness and to control levels of indirect light. As a result, the building appears to be glowing with natural light, in spite of the prevalence of artificial resources used. The designer’s highlighted particularities of the structure can be seen in marble panels, calligraphy, glass mosaics, and carved plaster. Every material is lit with an efficient system of light, which shows the quality and natural grain (Kessler, 2016). The prayer wall points to Mecca and has a unique piece of art which integrates light and textile in a representative light panel. A systematic approach helped to achieve the goals of the plan. It utilized a steady progression of trial plan workshops, mounting ideas, and models to guarantee that the various lighting effects produced an excellent composition.
Outdoor Design Concept
The overall concept was designed to ensure that the structure had a remarkable impact on the region and offered important interior spaces. The moon was a basis of motivation and a unifying element in the plan due to the Islamic sacred calendar, determined by the lunar sequence. The idea was that in the same way the moon influences the tides, it should have an impact on the building, with the plan that the building would be lit with sparkling white colors during the full moon, while the textural quality evocative of clouds would slowly drift in front of the white full moon. The mosque acquired a glamorous fashion with a rhythm based on a representation of full moon, with parts of the cloud running all over it from corner to corner. The structure changes its appearance during the lunar sequence, as it becomes covered in the glaring white light of the full moon, and the color changes each two days, growing steadily blue as the white fades. The mosque is lit from within, to change the colors and indicate darkness on the fourteenth day, though the viewers can not recognize these changes in color.
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Artisans used materials from various countries, such as Germany, Morocco, Turkey, Malaysia, United Kingdom, New Zealand, China, and the UAE, among others. More than 38 construction companies were involved in the building of the mosque, with natural materials being in use in the development and design because of their long lasting abilities (Dutta, 2005). These materials included marble stone, gold stones, crystals, and ceramics. The Italian company Impregilo was responsible for the construction of this structure. They used silver for exterior cladding. The interior elevations used Lasa from Italy and makrana from India for annexes and offices, supplemented by east white and green from China. The main prayer has a capacity of including 7,000 of people, and within the mosque, there are two small prayer rooms, each with a capacity of 1,500, with one being the prayer hall for women (AbulQaraya, 2015). Each corner of the square has four minarets, which are about 107 metres high (AbulQaraya, 2015).
The grand mosque comprises many unique and outstanding elements, such as the carpet which is in the main prayer hall, designed by an Iranian artist Ali Khaliqi with the help of about 1200 carpet knitters, and which took them two years to finish (Kessler, 2016). It is considered the world’s largest carpet ever made by the carpet company. It covers a space of 5.627m2 with a weight of 35 tons, and its main component is wool obtained from New Zealand and Iran (Kessler, 2016). Its estimated value is $8.5 million. The mosque also has seven chandeliers imported from a Germany company, integrating many Swarovski crystals. The largest of the chandeliers is the world’s third largest one, measuring 10m wide and 15m high (Kessler, 2016). It also has a rare craftsmanship element of 96 columns in the main prayer hall, dressed with marble and covered with pearls (Kessler, 2016). The minarets combine different styles, such as Mamluk, Ottoman, and Fatimid, adding the exquisiteness and art of the Islamic world.
The use of ornamentation was essentially an incorporation of marbles in different colors, done in order to create the amazing artistic forms with the use of natural colors and growth of stylish techniques related to columns crowned decoration. The designers gave the priority to colors that could help in the developing of the creative art forms. The column, the carpet, and wall colors are all well thought of, combined all over the mosque and being transformed into the artwork and masterpiece of colors and shades. Another architectural design is the cut which used modern techniques for artwork on glass and mosaics, statues and sandblasting, with the help of the established Islamic designs of proportion and replication. Along the courtyard of the mosque, there are ponds which are more conspicuous at night and reflect the high columns of it. An excellent lighting system was developed by the architects to imitate the moon phases, followed by gray clouds which are reflected on the walls in shades of the matching phase.
The people given the responsibility to design the lighting system agreed that the sources of light should be obscured considerably, with particular attention paid to the vertical lighting in the pits positioned at the end of the roofs, in niches on walls, or at the back of ornate gates. The unique lighting system was installed in the several components of the mosque, which included Qibia prayer golden wall, leaning in Mecca’s direction. It is the religious center of the mosque, with faces and 99 names of Allah inscribed, designed by Mohammed Mandi Al Tamimi, a renown UAE calligrapher in the ancient Kufic. An illuminated golden mesh hides 99 names inscribed, and the brilliant light is shown in parts of natural forms of vine leaves (Kessler, 2016). The designers also pressed for visual calm and supernatural vertical lighting effect on the walls that surround the central dome. The construction employed three calligraphy styles, namely, Naskhi, Thuluth, and Kufic, drafted by Mohammed Mandi of the UAE, Mohammed Allam of Jordan, and Farouk Haddad of Syria (Dutta, 2005).
The central hall has different light mechanisms, like the “light to behold”, done in the form of a huge spider, that can join at any time of the day in order to produce surroundings appropriate for communication. The designers also used different lighting systems, whereby the lower level lights have used outside and several systems on the staircases, with LED expertise producing sufficient visual calmness and saving the energy. A night view of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque is spectacular due to the great combinations of the unique lighting designs, with several spotlights on the mosque grounds. It was all achieved by the combined artistic efforts of both the suppliers of the lighting elements and the temple owners. In 2008, those efforts were recognized and given an award for being the best illumination plan in the Middle East, known as “Middle East Lighting Design” (AbulQaraya, 2015). The lighting makes the mosque appear almost like a mirage from the East end of the island.
The main hall has ten lamps, which in turn have a gold plate, ornamented with crystals. Each of them weighs 9 tons and is 10 meters long, and they were imported from Germany (AbulQaraya, 2015). Hundreds of light cast projectors are used to facilitate the interior vertical lighting, and they are all concealed from view by Stella wall washers. The projectors are also used to illuminate the prayer wall. Light materials, set with metal halide that is both economical and durable, were used in order to save the energy consumed. The maintenance of these projectors was a critical issue, as the lighting outside comprises the concealed projectors which give an impression of clouds moving in the Mecca’s direction and gradually covering the minarets and dome from corner to corner of the mosque. About 19,000 machines were used to operate the projector, but only six types of lamps are currently in use (Dutta, 2005).
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The grand mosque has three entrances open to the public, and a special entrance for the VIP. The main entrance leads to the sahan prayer hall and has white marble carving of a Quranic text, among other designs. Four tall minarets are elevated to the sky, forking an anchor, with the large square next to the main room, that together with the magnificence of the big prayer hall produces an impressive architectural masterpiece. The mosque can accommodate 40,000 worshippers (Kessler, 2016). There are four important spaces in the mosques, namely, prayer rooms, library, offices, and minarets. The main prayer hall has the large chandelier, fitted with LED advancements, crystals, and the largest ever handmade carpet in the world. It can contain more than 7,000 worshippers (Kessler, 2016). Also, there are two smaller prayer rooms that can allow 1,500 of people, and one room for the female worshippers (Kessler, 2016). There are four patios with flower patterns in every corner, topped by minarets. The prayer hall’s soil is considered to be an extensive collection of marble mosaic.
There is also a space for offices in the grand mosque, and they are located in the east minarets. The agencies manage the daily activities and Friday gatherings. The center itself was established in 2008 and has cultural, informative, and visitors programs — therefore, it acts as a knowledgeable and innovative center (Melotti, 2014). The library serves the public with typical books and publications on several matters, like Islamic sciences, development, inscription, and fine art, situated in the north-eastern minaret. The compilation has a set of languages, such as Arabic, English, Korean, and Spanish, among others, all collected in order to reflect the multiplicity of the Islamic culture and UAE. There was a significant reason to provide space for the minarets, as that was where the Muezzin had to shout to call for prayer before the invention of speakers. Thanks to the modern technology advancements, this tradition has been changed. All the four spaces have a critical importance in the Islam religion, and that is why they were an important aspect of the design of the mosque.
Mosques serve principally for the day-to-day obligatory prayers, but other religious exercises are also performed inside, like the Quran recitation and other prophetic customs. The dome structural system was the most common while building the mosques, as it can envelop wide spaces without disturbance. With some audio features, the place almost represents modern and cultural success. The huge mosque has 82 Moroccan combined styles, and it comes with the key dome being the world’s largest one of its nature, measuring 85 metres by 32.8 metres and with four minarets being 107 metres high (Melotti, 2014). The main prayer hall measures 50 metres by 55 metres and 33 metres high off the floor to the ceiling, where the infringement large space presents a vaulted arrangement of the tower, supporting the foot of the core shelter by 45 metres above the ground (Melotti, 2014). There are several beams within the structure, with the primary ring beam underneath the center dome, reaching the depth of 5 meters (Melotti, 2014). The construction occupied over 33,000 tons of steel, 210,000m3 concrete, 3,000 workers, and 7,000 groundwork piles (Dutta, 2005).
The sahan white marble floor has fittings of beautiful flower designs, achieved by the use of marbles of distinct colors. Furthermore, the arcades adjacent to the floor has a cycle of arches, maintained by columns and covered with white marble and precious stones which create an elegant design, enhanced by a finishing touch of palm trees. The sahan floor occupies a space equivalent to 17,400 m2 (Melotti, 2014). The arcades are enclosed with 34 domes, created inside with colorful imprinted calligraphy obtained from the Holy Quran and covered with Macedonian white marble from the outside, with additional layer of marble merlons. The elaborate design is used in several parts of the Grand Mosque to enhance its beauty and to realize the founder’s vision of the excellent and magnificent place of worship by use of pure white marbles and diversified craftsmanship in the construction.
The building used all the standard elements needed for construction of a mosque, with extra details applied in order to make it outstanding and remarkable for the Muslim community. The huge structure has over 80 domes and four minarets which are 107 meters high. Several elements form the mosque together with 28 types of marble and a massive amount of stone, which reaches 220,000m2 (AbulQaraya, 2015). The search for the purest white marble was conducted in several countries and stopped only upon finding large pure white marble with sharp features, solid enough to survive under the severe climatic conditions, like extreme temperatures, sandstorms, and dampness. The building was constructed fundamentally, using various types of marble, mosaics, plaster, and wood, possessing the largest ever hand-woven carpet in humanity.
The unique carpet is made of plenty of fine cotton, quality silk, and soft wool, all of which are manifested in the ceiling mosaics and chandeliers. A classy computer application, made by 1300 experienced knitters, designed the structure of the carpet, which has more than two billion knots within it (AbulQaraya, 2015). The carpet has about 25 natural colors, whose raw materials were obtained from roots, branches, and peels of several plants and trees. The fine wool was imported from New Zealand (AbulQaraya, 2015). A particular element of the carpet is the intricacy of the knotted prayer lines in it — however, these lines do not detract from the design. During prayers, worshippers can easily distinguish some lines from the others. The walls are fitted with pure Italian marble, and the hall’s columns use flawless round white marble, distinctively covered with unique flowered patterns of expensive stones. The space around the mosque has decorations of water elements and parks.
Semi-Precious Stones and Marbles
A lot of semi-expensive stones, not commonly used for the purposes of decorating the mosque and implanted in the marbles, were red onyx, pearl, and abalone, among others. The startling design, enriched with treasure and gold gemstones, has been expansively employed all over the Sheikh Zayed’s mosque construction. The white marbles were used in the mosque as well as in the minarets — the pure white marble was extracted from the mermen quarries in Macedonia. The warm marbles used for interior decorations were imported from Italy, with some part of them being applied to form cubes, used in the intricate flowery designs with a choice of specific colors. The pieces had to be cut in exact sizes to ensure they fitted the marbles appropriately, to create perfect flowery representations. The Qibia wall has the exquisite floral designs. Durable materials had to be used in the planning, to ensure that the mosque would keep standing despite the natural disasters, such as earthquakes.
Construction of the Mosque
The building of the mosque started in 1990 and was completed in 2007. The building procedure had been done in two phases, with the first one being conducted by an American contractor company. However, in 2002 there was a communication challenge between the Arab workers and the contractor. As a result, the construction was halted for a short period of time, and then resumed again. The second construction phase was conducted by the Arab company, known as AC/Six Company at a value of US $450 million (AbulQaraya, 2015). The work involved a lot of finishing, mechanical, and electricity work, as well as marble cladding, sophisticated Islamic designs, ornamentation, and carvings adorning the dramatic structure. Also, during the construction there were used the world’s finest decorative elements and great landscaping installations. The achievement became possible with the help of artisans who came from all corners of the world. Their efforts and sacrifice are all interwoven in the beautiful, magnificent mosque.
The chief architectural designer of the Grand Mosque is Yusef Abdelki of Halcrow Group, whose artistic work incorporated both modern and classical Islamic art, with Italian marbles decorating the outside and Islamic calligraphy beautifying the inside (AbulQaraya, 2015). Yusef was responsible for creating the elegant marble designs — this was his first international job, which he admitted was a turning point in his life. The people from his hometown have a negative attitude toward Islam and thus are unable to comprehend how he was given the contract despite being non-Muslim. Spatium Architects dealt with the interior designing of the Mega-mosque, which was known as a project defined by light. There is a symbolic importance of light to the Muslim religion. The company, therefore, was supposed to produce an all-around lit building. Their creation gives Abu Dhabi an attractive, meaningful impact, enhancing its in-depth artistic and spiritual sensitivity.
Achievements of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque
The founder’s vision of the mosque was realized through various methodical steps. The mosque performs several activities, geared toward serving the society by book fairs launching, lecture forums, supporting scientific innovations on different levels, and participating in social and national events. Millions of people visit the mosque to quench their spiritual thirst, and for the non-Muslims, it is an exciting adventure. The mosque boasts of receiving dignitaries from all over the world, including kings, presidents, vice presidents, among others, who all appreciated and admired the artistic Islamic architecture depicted in the SZGM. The mosque has elevated Abu Dhabi to a center of civilization, culture, and art, not only in the region, but in the whole world, since the mosque is considered to be a global achievement (AbulQaraya, 2015). Delegations and students of different disciplines visit the mosque to learn more about distinct qualities of architectural designs, evident in the SZGM.
Visitors provide the surrounding community with cooperation and partnership, leading to some of the board members of the SZGM visiting other world institutions. The mosque had a responsibility of reviving Islamic libraries, so it created a library with collection materials written in twelve dynamic languages. It aims to facilitate the communication with other communities and to provide the global knowledge, essential to scientific researchers. The primary objectives of the Library were to provide a variety of diverse intellectual publications and to obtain and document books related to Islamic culture. It also had to maintain the printed sources and to organize activities and events that promote the local community peaceful co-existence, unity, and cohesion. The mosque has participated both locally and internationally in technology forums, and the result is evident in the electronic advancements within it. The number of Muslim faithful worshippers who visit the mosque annually continues to rise, and this has a positive economic impact on the country.
The mosque has received several rewards in honor of its unique designs. The awards include 2010 Award of Excellence (Exterior Lighting), Radiance Award, and 2010 IALD Awards (AbulQaraya, 2015). Furthermore, it has won 2009 IES Illumination Award (Interior Lighting), 2009 Lighting Designs Award (Interior Lighting), 2009 FX International Design Awards (Exterior Lighting), Middle East Project of the year, and became the Public Building Category winner (AbulQaraya, 2015). These awards are the appreciations of the exemplary work and dedication of the artisans applied throughout the huge structure’s construction. Due to its massive size, unique artistic work, and exceptional building elements, the mosque has gained attention from people in all spheres of life. People visit the mosque every year to see the magnificent structure built at the heart of a desert and to witness the vibrant and profitable Abu Dhabi.
The mosque has become a very attractive location that everybody wishes to visit at least once in their lifetime. There are the custodians that implement a well-described dressing code for those visiting the mosque and for women, informing them of where they should put on Abaya and cover their hair. The men are also not allowed into the mosque in shorts — instead the custodians provide them with long traditional Muslim white garment. Personal photos are allowed, but only provided that one respects other people’s privacy and maintains a decent distance from those praying. The mood in the mosque has a different notion of a spiritual place — the harmony and composure are flagrant. The mosque has custodians who are willing to answer every question and who offer a guided tour throughout the mosque to the willing people. The mosque is open to public visits daily, from 9 am to 8 pm, excluding the Friday morning and Ramadan (Kessler, 2016).
The main prayer room is eye-catching. A beautiful breathing space allows people to walk along the outer hall full of marble, that leads them into the lobby where the serenity can be felt, and the mind revolutionizes upon stepping on the silk carpet with bare feet. An incredible comprehension of Sheikh Zayed’s vision, his desire to build a magnificent place of worship were all achieved, creating a place that is incomparable to any other. The embellishments of the roof are reflected in the carpet, and its design reflects the chandeliers, creating a feeling of the entirely inspirational wonder. Respecting the privacy of others, especially women and those praying, people have to take photos carefully. To visit the mosque during the day and at night are two very diverse experiences, and if a person has time, it is worth having both visits. During these visits, the proper dress codes have to be observed, which means long sleeves, long skirts, or trousers that cover the ankles, as well as a scarf to cover the heads of women. Those who disobey the dress codes are not allowed inside the mosque.
The people who worship the Grand Mosque seek guidance from five pillars of Muslim beliefs. They share a common belief that there is only one God — Allah, and they pray five times a day, cleansing themselves with water before they present themselves to Allah. They pray while facing the Mecca’s direction. Mecca is an important aspect of Islamic religion, as it is located in the Masjid mosque, which remains the largest mosque in the world and the holiest place of worship. The third pillar is a walk to Mecca at least once in an individual’s lifetime, for creating a special connection with the creator. Muslims also believe in adhering to Ramadan, which means fasting from sunrise to sunset during this period of time, when they gather in mosques with other Muslims faithful to praying at a stipulated time. The last pillar of the Islamic beliefs is that one should give 2.5% of their money to charity works annually (Melotti, 2014).
The vision of Sheikh Zayed to create a spectacular and magnificent place of worship has come to pass and is now a reality. A city that was initially quiet and underdeveloped has acquired recognition as a place with the construction of a huge mosque that has attracted the attention of the whole world, including the respected dignitaries of the society. Sheikh Zayed is the second largest mosque in the world, built with exemplary architectural expertise through international efforts, which involved workers, materials, and knowledge collected from different countries of the world. Those involved in the process were able to overcome all limitations as they geared toward delivering the best structure. The structure successfully captures the light, a symbolic element of Islamic religion which adds to the mosque’s stunning appearance. People who perform specific roles in the mosque continue to promote the vision of Sheikh to the society.