Every time I drove from Dubai to Abu Dhabi I would see this beautiful mosque under construction. Over the past year or so, I drove past it knowing it was possible to stop and have a look, but unfortunately without the time to ever do so. During my trip last week, which may well be my last business trip to the UAE, my colleague and I had a free afternoon. He too enjoys photography so I timed our drive to allow us a good one-hour stop between Asr and Maghrib prayers; and arranged for our driver to stop on the way.
The white colour is very striking against the backdrop of the blue sky and the impressive gardens, that have yet to mature, offer the perfect frame around the property. To my architecturally-untrained eye, the minarets have a distinctly local design. The domes too to a certain extent, but the fact that there are many changes the overall feel to a more oriental one. The design of the outside manages to perfectly balance harmony with surroundings, a clear sympathy for local tradition and culture, yet still able to be an imposing feature of the area. In one word: perfect; in another: timeless.
The hundreds of columns around the courtyard are decorated with flowers and ivy; the top of the columns mirror the local culture with the date palm trunk. It's all pulled to scale with quality marble throughout the building and subtle two-colour designs in the ceiling.
Let's go inside where - in my opinion - the mosque tells a different story. In fact the problem for me is that I couldn't work out what the story was. It didn't help that the impressive outside set my expectations very high. There is a missing ingredient that is in abundance outside; a certain flow that pulls you in and when you are in it almost feels like it pushes you out again. It is nothing in particular, just the fact that nothing seems to compliment the other. The Qibla wall is decorated with Allah's names and the Mihrab, which seems too tall and not wide enough, is in gold. One of those alone may well have worked. The combination makes me wonder how many cooks there were in this kitchen. It may be just me, but is there anything wrong with a plain wall somewhere? Does every single corner need decoration?
The lighting is creative and different to what one is used to seeing. The use of decorated glass is a breath of fresh air, and indeed the impressive carpet is a true work of art. However all these together and a busy front wall just do not work. I don't want to be unfair. The materials used are of the best quality, the designs are incredible, I feel someone who understands the concept of 'less is more' should have been in charge of putting it all together. Preferably the same person who did the outside. This would have made the book and its cover match the story they tell.
Chandeliers are highlight in any mosque (no pun intended), and a mosque of this size and status would offer a showpiece. The smaller ones to the side were reasonable and worked with the inside of the dom' and the main one offered the first sign of some sort of flow in the design. If you look at its patterns it mirrors to a certain degree those in the carpet. But whoever added those red and green Christmas balls hanging at the bottom should do a prayer a day, in this very mosque, for the rest of his/her life, asking god and humanity for forgiveness!
Speaking of forgiveness, I need to apologise for the quality of images on this post. I hadn't packed my camera charger and my battery was completely flat before I even started. I had to use my iPhone on the day which did a good job considering the task at hand.