Before this trip, Root and I had never visited a mosque and had very little exposure to the modest form of dress practiced by many Muslim men and women. We first experienced it in India, where we also learned about the elaborate latticed window designs incorporated in historic palaces and forts for women to peer through without being seen by the public. In the Middle East and Turkey we were further exposed to the religion and attire. As a woman raised in America in a Catholic family, it was fascinating to say the least.
The hijab takes on different forms and styles around the world.
In Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, we saw women wearing very fancy black kaftans with beautiful gold and silver embroidery and sparkly details. (I wish I had the photos to show you!) The makeup, shoes, purses and nails were also elaborate. I was surprised to see these women shopping at designer clothes stores in Dubai. My friend Kathy explained that they don’t wear the hijab inside the home with family and friends and in this setting they are really dressing for each other and it’s like a competition.
In Turkey the style is much more down-to-earth. Instead of a black kaftan, women wear long fitted or loose trench coats. To cover their hair and heads, decorative silk scarves are used and fitted with pins.
All of this was fascinating as a woman to witness. I wondered what it would be like if this style of dress was imposed on me. The thought made me uncomfortable and I felt sad for these women.
In some places like Saudi Arabia and Iran, women don’t have the freedom to choose what they wear, but where they do have a choice it’s not something all women view as oppressive. The hijab is worn with pride and devotion to religion and tradition.
This got me thinking…in America, the wedding veil is still worn by so many brides because it’s a great accessory and a strong cultural tradition. The veil didn’t feel right to me and yet I had my father walk me down the aisle. I saw this as ceremonial and sweet, rather than symbolic of my father turning me over to another man. So it’s interesting how the original intent and meaning of things can diffuse and change over time and continued out of a simple respect and love of tradition.
Visiting a Mosque
Before visiting a mosque, make sure you're dressed appropriately or you won't be allowed in. You'll also need to remove your shoes.
A Magical Mosque in Abu Dhabi
One of the most spectacular mosques we visited was the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Just stunning. It's one the world's largest mosques, with a capacity for 40,000 worshippers.
The entire mosque features a prominent floral theme, seen here in columns inlaid with semi-precious stone, Iznik panels, and a marble dome.
The mosque was constructed from 1996 to 2007 and has 82 domes and 4 minarets.
The main prayer hall features the world’s largest chandelier and largest hand-made carpet, soft fibre-optic lighting, and a wall illustrating the 99 names of Allah.
Overall, I've come to discover that I really love the Islamic art style, with its plant and flower motifs, geometric patterns and beautiful arabic calligraphy. If you ever find yourself in this part of the world, don't miss a visit to this mosque!