This was probably one of the most liberating driving experiences I’ve ever had in my entire life. I was driving through the arid desert, in a far flung Muslim country, on a remote desert highway, as a woman. So many things could have gone wrong and this was no ordinary circumstance. Contrary to popular opinion that women in Muslim nations cannot drive, Dubai and the United Arab Emirates are an exception.
On a visit to my sister who works in Dubai, we decided to drive to Abu Dhabi to see the Grand Mosque. She managed to borrow her coworkers suv who was out on vacation in another country and we took the opportunity to visit the neighboring emirate.
Abu Dhabi is the capital and the largest of the seven emirates that makes up the U.A.E. I flew to Dubai via Emirates Airlines and stayed for a week in my sisters apartment, which she shared with her coworkers.
Abu Dhabi is a 1.5 to 2 hours drive from Dubai, and like the latter, sits on the Persian Gulf. It is home to the largest mosque in U.A.E, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, or simply known as the Grand Mosque. Since I had data from my sister’s phone, I used google maps to get from our apartment to the Grand Mosque. Waze also actually works in the U.A.E so you have options for GPS navigation if you decide to drive around on your visit.
There are no parking and entry fees to visit the Grand Mosque but you have to follow their attire and rules and regulations. As it is a place of prayer and Islamic worship, women should have scarves covering their hair, a long dress and long sleeve top that covers the neckline. An abaya will be perfect and if you need a dress and are not prepared if you visit, the mosque provides this for free as well.
Men must wear long pants and short or long sleeves shirts. You cannot bring your shoes inside the mosque. There is a shoe rack for you to leave your shoes if you do not want to carry it in your purse or bag. You must also respect the people’s privacy so you cannot take their photos without asking for permission. There is also a section for men and women to pray separately. Most importantly, do not walk in front of people praying.
Once you go through the rules and are fine with adhering to it, make sure to enjoy the mosque. There are audio guide boxes with ear pieces available in multiple languages that are free to use but you have to deposit a proof of identity in advance, which you can collect later after you return the device.
The Grand Mosque features 82 domes, over 1,000 columns, 24 carat gold gilded chandeliers and the largest hand knotted carpet in the world. The mosque has a capacity to hold 40,000 worshipers, and is the burial site of its namesake, Sheikh Zayed.
The best time to visit the mosque is around 4pm to 7pm so you can catch the sunset and make it in time for the night lights. The mosque is open daily from 9am to 10pm except on Friday mornings and there are complimentary guided tours from 10am to 5pm.
The mosque has an outside cafe that sells sandwiches, pasta, coffee, and other refreshments to end your visit perfectly.