On our way home from Jordan, we decided to take an extended stopover in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) to allow ourselves time to rest and debrief from what had been an emotional ten days spent with Syrian refugees and the organizations that serve them. We didn’t have many plans or expectations for Abu Dhabi, except that we wanted to visit what has perhaps become the most well recognized symbol of Abu Dhabi: the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Although there is much to experience in Abu Dhabi and the UAE if you have  a few days to spend there, we decided to limit ourselves to just visiting the mosque and spending the rest of our time at the hotel relaxing and eating lots of chocolate. The time relaxing proved much-needed, and the visit to the mosque made the decision to extend our stopover in the emirate well worth it. It’s easy to see why it’s one of the top things to do in Abu Dhabi.

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The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is arguably one of the most beautiful and impressive mosques in the world. Commissioned by the first president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed, it was meant to represent the struggle of the UAE to balance both the traditional and the modern world, a battle which the late Sheikh Zayed was constantly fighting in his own nation and the broader Middle East region. Drawing from traditional Islamic, Turkish, and Moroccan architectural elements — it even resembles India’s Taj Mahal — the building showcases Middle Eastern history, culture, architecture, and art.

I found it useful to learn a bit about the history of the Sheikh Zayed mosque before visiting. Commissioned in 1996 and completed in 2007, the mosque has become a symbol of modern Islam. It’s pearl white exterior of over 80 marble domes and four minarets shines blindingly in the blazing Abu Dhabi sun. The entire complex covers 30 acres and takes a few hours to explore thoroughly.

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The entrance to the main prayer hall where Muslim visitors will pray, particularly on Fridays, holy day in Islam. It is closed to non-Muslims during prayer times and female visitors must cover their heads to enter the entire mosque complex. During Muslim holidays, including Eid Al Adha and Ramadan, tens of thousands of worshipers will file into the mosque. It can accommodate 7,000 people at one time, while the entire complex can accommodate 40,000. Two smaller prayer halls sit on either side of the main hall.

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The Muslim practice of “salat” instructs them to pray five times a day facing in the direction of Mecca. If you are a woman, you will have to cover yourself before going into the mosque. If you do not come with a scarf of your own (as I did), they will provide you one. Be sure to dress modestly, covering your arms and legs, as you prepare for your visit.

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Ablution station, where worshipers can cleanse themselves before entering the mosque and approaching Allah in prayer.

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One thousand beautiful and intricately tiled columns adorn the corridors of the grand mosque.

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Intricately decorated tiles adorn the floor throughout the mosque. The designs on the walls, floor, and columns include in-laid mother-of-pearl. Here, you see the beautiful detail just outside the entrance to the prayer hall.

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The prayer hall includes the world’s largest one-piece Persian carpet, covering 60,000 square feet and weighing 35 tons. It took two years for 2,000 artisans to finish the carpet. The chandeliers are made of Swarovski crystals.

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The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the most impressive architectural structures — ancient or modern — that I have visited. It is well worth taking a day to explore if you ever visit Abu Dhabi.