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UAE then and now: the mosque planned by Sheikh Zayed that became his final resting place

The National logo The National 15/09/2021 James Langton
a group of people in front of a building: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, pictured in December 2005 and in September 2021. Photos: Getty Images and Khushnum Bhandari / The National © Provided by The National Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, pictured in December 2005 and in September 2021. Photos: Getty Images and Khushnum Bhandari / The National

Today, life in the Emirates moves in the fast lane. In a regular series to mark the 50th anniversary of the UAE, we take a trip back in time to see how much the country has changed.

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is many things. Its grounds are the final resting place of Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father, it is the largest mosque in the UAE, and it is the city’s most popular tourist destination - consistently number one on TripAdvisor.

The project was launched by Sheikh Zayed in the mid-1990s, with construction completed in the autumn of 2007, although landscaping work continued for many years after.

Though Sheikh Zayed did not live to see the mosque completed, following his death in 2004, he was buried in a courtyard tomb that was then part of the building site.

a person sitting on a bench in front of a building: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi undergoes construction in December 2005. Getty Images

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi undergoes construction in December 2005. Getty Images
© Provided by The National

The first photograph in the interactive slider was taken in December 2005, when the exterior was largely completed, along with the four minarets.

The mosque is made from concrete, but its facade is made of marble from North Macedonia - over 1.2 million square metres in total.

The building incorporates elements of Islamic architecture from all over the world, including Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and Iran.

The artistic flourishes, featuring inlaid floral designs, use stone, gold leaf, semi-precious stones and ceramic tiles.

Inside, the 5,600-square-metre carpet in the main prayer hall is generally believed to be the largest in the world and was made by the Iran Carpet Company, which employed 1,200 weavers and used over 35 tonnes of wool and cotton in its creation.

Hanging from the ceiling are seven chandeliers made in Germany that contain millions of Swarovski crystals. The largest is 15 metres high and is cleaned via access from an internal staircase.

Each of the 99 names of God is inscribed on the qibla wall, while the external lighting reflects the phases of the Moon.

The mosque is open to non-Muslims outside of prayer times and famous visitors include Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, INC president Rahul Gandhi, model Gigi Hadid, singer Dua Lipa and actor Hugh Jackman, to name a few.

Despite its obvious Instagram appeal, the vast majority of visitors respect the culture and values represented by the mosque, and it is now as recognisable a symbol of Abu Dhabi as the Eiffel Tower is of Paris or the Tower Bridge is of London.

Each Ramadan, the mosque welcomes tens of thousands of worshippers for iftar meals and taraweeh prayers, attracting about one million visitors during the holy month in 2019.

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