The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is located in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates and the eight largest in the world. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was initiated by its namesake, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the late President of UAE. Sheikh Zayed is the driving force in the formation of the United Arab Emirates, in which he became the first president, holding that position for thirty (30) years until his death in 2004. Sheikh Zayed, in contrast with the other mostly conservative Islamic countries in the region, has a religious tolerance for Christians working or visiting the UAE, and exposed him to much criticism from his neighbors. Sheikh Zayed was able to put UAE in the frontline of modernization by utilizing profits from oil into building infrastructure such as roads and hospitals, and called for the improvement of lives of citizens of not only he UAE but also of other Arab countries in the region. This paper aims to compare the two visits to the mosque, once in the year 2003 while the mosque was still under construction and Sheikh Zayed still alive, and once in the year 2009 when the mosque is already finished and open to the public and Sheikh Zayed already passed, with the goal of determining if and how much has changed based on personal significance to the visitor.
My first visit to the mosque was back when I was thirteen years old. Being a young kid, I did not think much of the significance of most anything, much less the mosque. I did not pay much attention to the structure and what was going on around me. I was young enough to not attach symbolism or insights to the things happening around me. I was at that age when all I wanted to do was to enjoy my life as long and as best as I can.
In the year 2003, the mosque was still under construction. My father does construction jobs and we had the privilege to look around at the mosque when we were there. Again, being a young kid who merely wanted to enjoy my life, I did not have much of an impression about the mosque. Yes, it is a large mosque, but it is still a mosque, not much different from the other mosques around the world, except maybe for its size and the fact that they have not yet finished constructing it. Also, at my age, Sheikh Zayed was still just the president of the UAE, just as he always has been since I was born and just as I assumed he will be for a long time after that.
My second visit was six years after the first. I was nineteen years old then and much has changed already. For starters, I was no longer the kid who simply wanted to enjoy life. Of course, fun and enjoyment of life is still a priority, but it is not the only one. I have now already learned a lot in those six years; I have experienced many things already, more aware of the events and issues of the world, and have learned that one cannot exist without taking into account one’s environment. At nineteen years old, I have realized that the passing of time is not as simple as just the passing of it. I have realized that as time passes, things and people change. I have been little by little exposed to adult responsibilities and have started to make the first of my adult decisions. I am no longer as sheltered as I was six years ago and no longer as selfish. I have begun to see myself as an individual who is part of the world, not merely affecting it but also being affected by it. My life no longer revolves around myself but also in my environment and I am now aware of how easily or gradually it can change. The biggest realization I have is that everything and everyone will experience death. It could be an actual death of a being or a death of an idea, a death of an era. Death is an inevitable, looming reality for everything that is here in the world now; it is not a matter of if but of when and how.
The construction of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was finished and it opened in the year 2007 in time for Eidhl Adha, two years before my second visit and four years after the first. The mosque has a maximum capacity of over 40,000 with over 22,000 square meters in area. The mosque has become a place for learning with its education and visitor programs, offering guided tours and containing a library filled with publications with a range of Islamic subjects with materials in a broad range of languages. The Sheikh Zayed grand mosque have domes in Moroccan design in white marble, over one thousand columns covered with marble panels and semi-precious stones, reflective pools, and walls filled with calligraphy of the 99 names of Allah. The Mosque is also the final resting place of its namesake and late president of the UAE, HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
What was once under construction is now a grand sprawling structure that serves as a reminder of the man who initiated it; a man who lived and embodied a vision of tolerance rooted in respect, love, and exchange of ideas. Sheikh Zayed died in November of 2004. In his lifetime, Sheikh Zayed has created a large impact in the UAE and the world. Apart from being known as the “founding father” of the United Arab Emirates, he is known for his patience, optimism, and wisdom. He worked to settle the different tribal differences and disputes between Arab nations, built infrastructure, and made water available to all citizens. While some criticized him for his openness to other cultures, most admired him for being able to bring the UAE into modernization without compromising their heritage. The death of Sheikh Zayed had impacted the UAE and the rest of the Arab nations in a way that is most noticeable; a visionary that has brought the UAE into development has died and some of his ideas died, no matter how tirelessly his sons would like to continue them, has died with him. The UAE has lost a father and with his loss, the loss of a more open, more global UAE, given that his son who succeeded him is more conservative (religiously) than he was.
In conclusion, the two visits to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has emphasized in the author how a death of a single person can become a death of a world of possibilities, that as this person passes, so does the possibility of another kind of life or world that may happen had he not passed. The grand mosque has changed – both physically and symbolically, between the two visits. However, the bigger change has been in the author and the author’s way of thinking who had begun to see that while death is inevitable for everything, it stands as a reminder to make the most of the life we have to be able to touch and change lives for the greater good.