Acting as tour-guide for an over curious mother-in-law who has declared herself sick and tired of shopping malls, isn’t easy. While Abu Dhabi is a popular tourist destination, most visitors probably have a theme to their visit, i.e. Shopping, sun worshipping or Golf, which helps form their holiday itinerary. This tour consisted of a hyper-active baby, two under-active young teenagers, an over –active mother-in-law and the tour guide was a dormant tourist, dormant but due to explode!
The impressive profile of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque punched the skyline on the way to Musrif Mall and it was then that I earmarked the Mosque for tomorrow’s tour. It had been a while since I ventured to a location that didn’t have both a baby-changing room and a McDonalds and while I was tentative at first, I could feel the old thirst for old cultures and new sights, rising in my throat.
The views on approach to the Mosque were impressive, I had googled it the night before and it wasn’t the fusion of Arab, Mughal and Moorish architecture, that took my eye, rather the marble, gold, precious stones, crystals and ceramics that embellished each of the 1,000 thousand columns that stood proud around the main building. The design and construction of mosque is known for having “united the world” using materials from Italy, Germany, Morocco, India, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, China, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Greece and United Arab Emirates. More than 3,000 workers and 38 companies took part in the construction of the Mosque. Work began in 1990 and it took over 2 years and 2 billion dirham’s to complete. I hadn’t even entered the Mosque and I was already impressed, I could wait to see the inside, this would be an uplifting experience for all family.
Walking along the smooth paving alongside the giant water pools at the front of the Mosque and hearing the call to prayer over the loudspeakers added weight to the experience, the serenity mixed with sheer power of the Muslim prayer would sway even the most rigid of Catholics to give up bacon. I had dabbled in Yoga in the past and while I never had the concentration to meditate, I reckoned I was a spiritual person and that this experience would be significant for me, maybe even the cornerstone for a new way of life. Certainly the snow white domes propped up by mother of pearl clad columns would be the kind of worship pad I would like to associate myself with. If that meant leaving behind the carpet tiles and wooden benches of the Church in Ireland, then c’est la vie.
Turning the corner to the entrance my enthusiasm absorbed quicker than a cup of water in a barrel of sawdust, all visiting women had to wear the Abaya. Trapped! My one big phobia facing me and my new colourful Desigual top right in the face. I had no choice. My daughters and mother-in-law were delighted with the photo opportunity and my young son was clearly oblivious to the Muslim beliefs about women exposing any part of their bodies, as he sucked his toes. Donning the black shroud and covering my whole head apart my eyes, dampened my view of the mosque and the strong sweet smell of the perfume of the previous wearer stifled the possibility of fresh air.
I couldn’t see the largest carpet in the world, 60,570sq. ft. clearly through my Niqab, I tried to bend down to the touch it, but the masses of the black material at my feet were too restrictive. The seven German imported chandeliers consisting of millions of Swarovski crystals didn’t twinkle as they might have done, if the condensation and spittle wasn’t gathering in the thick black chiffon that covered my mouth. I stood in front of the Qibla wall and looked at the 99 names, qualities of Allah inscribed in Kufi calligraphy and tried to decipher if “considerate” was up there. I had never been in a church that delivered so much by way of beauty and at the same time disabled my capacity to enjoy it. Hot, claustrophobic and trying to control a newly walking curious baby I found myself getting irritated at the fact that there are only 96 columns in the main prayer room and wouldn’t it have been pertinent for the architects to add another three to symbolize the 99 names of Allah, but there you, nothing is perfect. Handing the Abaya back I walked out, enjoying my old light step and feeling thankful for honesty of the stone, wood and stained glass finishes of the churches at home.