Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fast and impressive facts about the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

When people ask me what to see in Abu Dhabi I always recommend a visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

I have been there a few times myself and never get bored. This is really one of the finest structures in Abu Dhabi. A place where you can get a better understanding of the local culture and religion, as well as admire great beauty from just about any angle you look.

Most people do not know this, but the Grand Mosque started as a vision of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, known for adopting a tolerant version of Islamic faith and staying far away from fanaticism or extremism.

Sheikh Zayed imagined a place of worship that would help people come together, understand Islam and see it as a religion that has a message of peace, tolerance and diversity.

After his passing in 2004, Sheikh Zayed’s vision for the mosque was carried on by his sons who brought professionals and materials from all over the world to finalize their father’s dream.

Here are some fast and impressive facts for you. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque…

-   accommodates over 40,000 worshipers;

-   features 82 white marble domes of Moroccan design;

-   has more than 1,000 columns in the outer areas, with inlaid marble panels and decorated in a floral design with semi-precious stones, and 96 columns in the main prayer hall, each inlaid with mother of pearl;

-   displays the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet, designed by Iranian artist Ali Khaliqi and hand crafted by 1,300 artisans;

-   showcases the word’s largest chandelier, made in Germany with thousands of Swarovski crystals from Austria and glasswork from Italy;

-   includes materials such as marble, stone, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics in its design and construction;

-   uses a very special lighting system in evening hours that follows the phases of the moon – they gradually become lighter as the moon becomes full;

-   is the final resting place of the late visionary president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who was buried in the courtyard of the Mosque.

Plan your visit:

The Grand Mosque offers daily complimentary ‘walk-in’ guided tours (Sunday through Thursday at 10am, 11am and 5pm / Friday at 5pm and 7:30pm / Saturday at 10am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm and 7:30pm).

You may also visit the Grand Mosque on your own. It is open daily, but closes several times during the day for prayer. So you better call ahead and check the timings for when you plan to visit.

Remember to dress respectfully – no shorts or skirts and covered shoulders. In any case, women will be given an abaya and sheila to wear, while men dressed inappropriately will be given a dish-dash to wear.

For more information: / +971 2 441 6444

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Tips to make your life easier on your visit to the UAE

I’ve seen it happen again and again and again. People arrive in the UAE, see this very ‘modern’ place which has become more flexible and tolerant in relation to other cultures and values in order to grow and develop, and seem to forget this is still a Muslim country, with customs that are often very different from the ones of the Western world.

Since I constantly have visitors coming from all around the globe, I’ve decided to share with you the top tips I give them before the start of their Arabian adventure…


It won’t hurt you to do a little research before you come. Let me sum things up for you a little bit:

The UAE is a 40 year old nation (turned 40 on December 2, 2011), located in the Arabic Peninsula, with Oman to the East and North and Saudi Arabia to the West and South, and made up of seven Emirates (Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Qaiwain).

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the country, and also the largest (covers almost 90% of the national territory) and the richest of the seven Emirates.

The local currency is the UAE dirham which is divided into 100 fils. One dirham = USD 3.67 (this rarely changes as the UAE dirham is pegged to the US dollar).

Arabic is the official language. Actually, it would also be nice for you to learn a few little words, don’t you think? Here is something to get you started:

Assalaam Alaikum – Peace be upon you
Wa Alaikum Assalaam – And peace be upon you
Marhaba – Hello
Maa assalaama - Goodbye
Ahlan wasahlan - Welcome
Shukran - Thanks
Afwan – You are welcome
Men fadlak - Please
No – Laa
Yes – Naam
Yallah – Come on, let’s go
Yani – Like, you know
Mabrook – Congratulations
Shwey shwey - Slowly


In general lines, keep in mind the local standards of modesty.

If you are a woman, there is absolutely no need to cover yourself up entirely, but do avoid short, tight, or revealing clothes with lots of cleavage and transparencies. This will show respect towards the people of this country and the local customs and also avoid unwanted attention from men.

If you are a man, you can pretty much wear anything you feel like. However, don’t attempt to take off your shirt in public (even if it’s 50 degrees Celsius out there) or walk around in your Speedo’s – unless you are enjoying the sun at a beach or a hotel pool. Showing your knees might also be offensive to some people, so do check where you are going before you put on those shorts.

Oh… one more thing. I know you will probably get excited and want to buy traditional clothes once you get here, but keep in mind that locals might be offended to see a foreigner parading around in a dishdash or abaya (for more info read the post Fashion Time).


Westerners are used to seeing displays of affection everywhere as it is quite normal to find couples holding hands, hugging and kissing out in the open.

Well, not around here… So you better control yourself and leave all this touching for behind closed doors.


Although Emiratis are very friendly and warm, some of them – especially women - may consider it inappropriate or offensive to have their picture taken by a stranger.

When you do take a picture, be very careful. Do it from a distance, without too much of a close-up. Better yet, respectfully approach the locals and ask if it’s ok for you to take their picture.


Some men do not shake hands with women and some women do not shake hands with men. Since you will not know who does what in advance, unless you’ve met them before, the best strategy is to wait for locals to initiate a greeting and follow.

In addition, remember that the left hand is considered unclean and reserved for hygiene, so always greet with your right hand – even if it is just a wave from a distance.


Men are used to crossing their legs and pointing the bottom of their shoes up, towards someone. This is a big no-no around here. Very rude!

Also, if you are ever invited into someone’s house, ask if you need to take off your shoes before you walk in. You will probably be asked to remove them and leave them at the door. Don’t worry; they will still be there on your way out!


We are all used to admiring things and letting people know how beautiful or amazing or unbelievable their items are.

Be careful with too much enthusiasm around here or your host might feel obligated to give you that something you seemed to fall in love with at first sight.


When invited to someone’s house, offered refreshments and food or presented with a gift, just say yes (and thank you, of course!). It is impolite to refuse such offerings or invitations.