Photo: Inside the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Inlaid flowers snake up the marble walls of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

Photograph by Dave Yoder, National Geographic

By Carl Hoffman

It looms up like a vision of white clouds, an over-the-top Eastern fantasy of 351-foot-tall minarets and 82 snow-white marble domes. The mosque that Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan built in Abu Dhabi is the epitome of an open and affluent Islam: its marble comes from throughout the world, its designers include non-Muslims, and it welcomes everyone from everywhere with organized tours.

The mosque is vast, the seventh largest in the world, with a central courtyard of marble tiles inlaid with flowers of blue and green marble and semiprecious stones, capable of holding 40,000 people at prayer. Through a pair of 27-ton Murano glass doors is the main worship hall, which holds more than 7,000 faithful atop what may be the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet, a 47-ton, 180,000-square-foot behemoth that took the work of 1,200 weavers in Iran. The German-made chandeliers overhanging it are pure Alice in Wonderland, 49 feet tall and 33 feet wide and made of Swarovski crystals and 24-karat gold.

When the mosque’s imam calls the faithful to prayer in the vast room, his voice is broadcast to all the other mosques in the city.

“There is marble from so many places in the world here,” says Mouza Al Mansoori. “It makes visitors from far away feel close to the mosque. And Sheikh Zayed is buried here, which makes me feel safe and that I am near to him.”

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