Cultural Exchange / Study Abroad / Tourism / Travel

Throwback Thursday: Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

As we’ve slid into summer, I’ve started to feel some massive nostalgia for Oman. I was only there for 6 weeks, as compared to 4-8 months in other countries, but it just carries such strong memories for me in summer, the hottest part of the year. The oppressive humidity that coated us like a blanket, the cups of steaming tea even in the midst of the hottest days, the smells and sounds of our lively street, the numerous dinners (fatoor) shared together after a long day of fasting for those of us who participated in Ramadan–everything seems to be coming back at me just now. So I felt like it was appropriate for today’s Throwback Thursday to come from Muscat, and I selected an incredibly ornate destination for you: The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.

IMG_8495EDIT

I realize this photo is slightly crooked. But I couldn’t fix it without destroying the quality.

So let’s get some facts out of the way first. Firstly, Sultan Qaboos is the current Sultan of Oman. (Oman=a Sultanate, fyi.) He is getting on in years but somehow still manages to look FABULOUSLY young. He is responsible, in large part, for bringing Oman from a rural, poor country to a modernized and wealthy nation in the last 30 years or so. Secondly, the Grand Mosque is therefore not particularly old-construction began in the 1990’s and it was inaugurated in 2001, if Wikipedia is to be believed. (Don’t hate me for using Wiki, it’s the fastest way to find facts!)

One of the beautiful shaded hallways full of stunning arches.

One of the beautiful shaded hallways full of stunning arches.

Tell me this doesn't look straight out of Jasmine's gardens in Aladdin.

Tell me this doesn’t look straight out of Jasmine’s gardens in Aladdin.

The mosque is massive, and stunningly beautiful. Islam forbids the depiction of Allah and the idolization of any religious figures, so as with every other mosque there are no stained glass windows or paintings containing religious scenes. Islamic art, therefore, has taken on a beautiful, intricate style of its own, using tiles and mosaics as well as calligraphy to decorate religious spaces. (Honestly…I prefer it.) The Sultan Qaboos mosque took these decorations to the next level–everything is so ornate and detailed everywhere you look. The materials for the mosque come from all over the world–India, Germany, I think Italy…the list goes on. The Sultan spared no expense for his mosque and was sure to acquire the best of the best for construction. It shows.

The men's prayer room--see the small guard at the back? Yeah, he can provide some scale to you. And that's not even the tallest part!

The men’s prayer room–see the small guard at the back? Yeah, he can provide some scale to you. And that’s not even the tallest part!

Rows of chandeliers adorn the ceiling of the men's prayer room.

Rows of chandeliers adorn the ceiling of the men’s prayer room.

There are two prayer rooms, one for women, and one for men. Both are maassive, although the men’s space far more so–and it contains the world’s second largest hand-woven rug (thanks again, Wikipedia) and the BIGGEST CHANDELIER I HAVE EVER SEEN OR EVEN DREAMED OF IN MY LIFE. I’m not kidding. None of my photos do it justice because you really can’t SEE how big it is, even with people in the photo. I think it might actually a be two stories tall.  The entire prayer room is decorated with other large chandeliers, glittering gold paint on mosaic walls, and stained glass windows, but I promise you when you walk in, you will not be able to take your eyes off of the massive light fixture hanging from the center dome for at least 5 minutes. It is beyond impressive. (My visit last summer was my second, the first time had been when I was studying abroad in Jordan and came on spring break, so this time around I was able to appreciate the rest of the room a little more thoroughly.)

So here's the giant chandelier from below. The rotunda from which it hangs is impressive in its own right as well--just look at the color and detail!

So here’s the giant chandelier from below. The rotunda from which it hangs is impressive in its own right as well–just look at the color and detail!

There's the giant from a further back perspective--you still cannot tell from this photo how large it is. AT ALL.

There’s the giant from a further back perspective–you still cannot tell from this photo how large it is. AT ALL.

Close-up of Chandelier detail. I promise I'll stop now...but I totally don't want to.

Close-up of Chandelier detail. I promise I’ll stop now…but I totally don’t want to.

The men’s prayer room is not all that the mosque has to offer, however. There are beautiful washrooms to cleanse oneself before prayer, long stretching hallways across the tiled pavilions, and stunning gardens and fountains that frankly must cost a fortune to maintain in Oman’s sweltering heat.

One of the washrooms with a sink of sorts in the middle--birds can often be seen fluttering in and out of these rooms.

One of the washrooms with a sink of sorts in the middle–birds can often be seen fluttering in and out of these rooms.

If you have the chance to visit Oman, the Sultan Qaboos Mosque is absolutely not to be missed. Really and truly, it is one of the most beautiful architectural sites I’ve ever had the pleasure of meandering through. However, there are a few things you should keep in mind and respect if you are going to visit:

1) Both women AND men should dress conservatively. Legs and arms should be covered (men might get some leeway on long sleeves, but I don’t promise that), no low-cut or open shirts. Women should also know that they will be required to cover their hair (even in the gardens), so either bring a scarf or be prepared to use ones provided for that purpose. It does not matter what your religion is, you are entering a holy Islamic space, and thus it is important to respect and follow their rules and traditions. 
2) Before going into the prayer rooms, you will see multiple cubbies outside the room. This is for your shoes–they are not permitted inside the prayer rooms. Please take them off and deposit them outside to be picked up as you exit–I promise, no one is going to steal them from you!
3) Photos of these incredible spaces are perfectly allowed. However, it would probably not be a very good idea to take pictures of anyone in the middle of prayer without first obtaining their permission.
4) There are quite a few books (Qur’an and other texts)  in the men’s prayer room. Don’t touch them unless you’re actually Muslim. I don’t know that there’s anything official against this, but we were all given the impression that they were off limits–except my Arabic professor who came with us and pulled a few out to show us selections, assuring us that he was allowed to do so because he was a practicing Muslim.
5) The tile pavilions are REALLY REALLY REALLY HOT. They sit and bake in the sun all day. So, if you’re in between a prayer room and the cubbies with your shoes, do take care not to step anywhere but on the rugs and spots in the shade, or you’ll regret it quickly!
6) The mosque is free, but closed at certain times for prayer. Be particularly careful about Friday, which is the holy day in Islam–be sure to check opening times before going!

And that’s all for this Throwback Thursday, my dears.

-B

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