This time last year I got to spend a few months in Abu Dhabi. I would like to share some of my favourite places in Abu Dhabi. I am aware that the UAE is a very popular holiday destination for Muslim travellers and there lots of guides and reviews of places in the UAE to visit. I would however like to share with you some places that are less well known.
I am starting with my favourite place in Abu Dhabi – which has got to be the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It is of course one of the most iconic and visited places in Abu Dhabi. But I would specifically like to share with you my experience of Iftar in this beautiful Mosque.
First lets start with some information about the Masjid – The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the largest Mosque in the UAE and on Eid prayer is visited by over 41,000 people. The Grand Mosque was constructed between 1996 and 2007 and was designed by a Syrian architect. The interior Mosque building complex covers an area of more than 12 hectares. The project was launched by the late president of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Zayed, who is buried within the grounds of the Mosque. The Mosque serves as centre of learning through its library, educational activities and visitor programs. The Mosque is decorated with luxurious carpets, chandeliers, marble, stones, crystals and gold from across the world. The Mosque really is such a splendour to explore and has such a different atmosphere depending on what time you are visiting.
During the month of Ramadan the Mosque takes on a completely different atmosphere. Ramadan is a holy month in the Islamic calendar where Muslims fast from dawn till dusk. Iftar is the meal Muslims have at the end of the day to open their fast. The Iftar meal at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a huge project. The Mosque provides up to 35,000 Iftar meals are provided every day for free. I thought it would be interesting to share some numbers of about the Iftar at the Mosque so you can see the scale of this project. 1,000 people work around the clock at a huge, two-storey kitchen to produce the Iftar. More than 12 tonnes of chicken, 6 tonnes of lamb, 7,000 kilograms of rice, 1,600kg of mixed vegetables, 600kg of tomatoes and 400kg of onions are used everyday. The preparation begins three months in advance and requires planning and dedication. The outcome is thousands of complete Iftar meals, each of which contains biryani, curry, water, an energy drink, apple, dates, juice, yogurt, laban and salad. The Masjid has been delivering Iftar meals since 2004. From 5pm on wards the Iftar meal distribution begins at 13 air-conditioned tents, which can each accommodate about 1,000 to 1,500 people, and still that is not enough, with people spilling over on to carpets in the mosque gardens.
Unfortunately I was not able to take any pictures of the ladies tent. I can say however that the vibe inside the tent is so exciting with thousands of people from different backgrounds gathering to open Iftar together.
Gettting There: If you are in Abu Dhabi then the Mosque is a must visit. It is very easy to get to by taxi or drive to if you have a car. There are thousands of free parking spaces but if you are going for Iftar the spaces get filled hours before. All the nearby roads also get filled with people parking to attend the Iftar meal.
This blog post is not about visiting the Mosque generally. If you want information about visiting the Mosque including timings and dress code then I would recommend checking out their website – https://www.szgmc.gov.ae/en/
Final Thoughts: I would really recommend opening your fast at the Mosque if you are in the UAE during Ramadan. It really is such a special and unique experience where you really are able to feel the essence of Ramadan and a connection with thousands of other people opening their fast. The teams who manage the Iftar meals are very efficient and organised but I would recommend getting there very early as it gets very busy.