A beacon of Islam: the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
Sultan Qaboos of Oman decreed in 1992 the building of a Grand Mosque in the nation’s capital, Muscat. The following year an international competition was announced and the building of the mosque began in 1995.
Just over six years later, and paid for entirely at his personal expense, the completed Mosque was officially opened by the Sultan on May 4th 2001. Now the third largest Mosque in the world, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is also one of its most beautiful.
In a sense, the Mosque is a reflection of what has happened in the Sultanate in recent years. Whereas other countries in the region, bolstered by vast oil revenues, have opted for a Western lifestyle, losing much of their traditional crafts and heritage in the process, Oman has steered a middle course.
From being considered a backward country when the Sultan came to the throne in 1970, the country now has excellent medical facilities, as well as highways, schools and universities. Despite these advances, though, the country has maintained its own distinct heritage.
The Grand Mosque is both modern in design and execution and traditional in style. It is built on a massive scale. The main Prayer hall, for example, covers 40,000 square metres, accommodating 6.500 worshippers, while the whole complex covers 416,000 square metres and has capacity for a total of 20,000 worshippers on major feasts.
Over the main courtyard is a retractable cover which can be used for shade when the heat is especially strong. The Main Prayer Hall is covered with a single enormous Persian carpet weighing 21 tonnes. This carpet alone took four years to complete. Above the worshippers rises a massive chandelier, 14 metres tall.
Built of 300,000 tonnes of Indian sandstone, the mosque sits on a raised podium, in keeping with traditional Omani mosques, keeping it raised from street level and visible for miles around.
The massive blue and gold dome rises fifty metres from the floor of the main Prayer hall. In Islamic architecture, a royal mosque traditionally has four minarets. This one has five, symbolising the five Pillars of Islam. There is one major minaret at the centre and one at each corner.
A Mosque is so much more than a place for praying. In a Muslim community it really is the focal point of that community. From its minarets the name of God is called out five times a day, reminding the people that Allah is the very centre of all they do.
The mosque is both education centre and social centre. From the earliest days of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) the mosque was the focal point of the community. In the city of Madinah it was at the very heart of the Islamic State itself.
When, for example, a man has not been seen in the mosque for a day or two by his friends, they will ask where he is and go to see if he is well. When a member of the community is facing financial problems, he can go to the mosque for help. Children gather in a mosque to learn how to recite the Quran.
In a similar way, the Grand Mosque of Sultan Qaboos is more than a space for prayer. There is a Main Prayer Hall, a Ladies Prayer Hall, Covered passageways for reflection or discussion, a Meeting hall and Lecture hall for up to 300 people and a Library with a capacity of 20,000 books.
Attached to the complex is an Islamic Centre. Already the host for international Islamic conferences, the Centre aims to advance the latest research and promote the most up to date thinking in the Islamic world.
Whilst the interior is covered throughout in off-white and grey marble panelling to give an atmosphere of cool and calm, the Ladies Prayer hall is panelled in pink marble.
The most beautiful thing about this mosque, though, is the way it incorporates every aspect of Islamic heritage. Walking through its portals is to experience the history of Islam. There are ceramic tiles, stained glass, brass and silverware, wooden carving and other artefacts from every period in history. In one area you will be thrilled with Ottoman designs, whilst in another you can experience Mamluke, Indian Moghul, Iranian Safavid and traditional Omani styles.
The overall effect is breathtakingly beautiful. So what can we learn from the Grand Mosque of Sultan Qaboos?
Muslims read in the holy Quran:
The mosques of Allah shall be visited and maintained
By such as believe in Allah and the Last day,
Establish regular prayers, and pay zakat,
And fear none except Allah. It is they
Who are expected to be on true guidance. 9:18
Do you remember what it was like in Ramadan? Remember how full the mosques were for Tarawih prayers in the evening and for Fajr Prayer at dawn? Where have all those crowds gone? Where are all the worshippers, with tears running down their faces, who fasted with all their hearts for Allah’s sake?
The mosques of Allah are not just built to look pretty, no matter how magnificent they appear. The reason for their existence is that men might pray in them and that Allah’s Name be praised.
Let us not forget the lessons of Ramadan.