OFFBEAT AL NOOR MOSQUE IN SHARJAH IS ALSO CLOSE TO DUBAI- NON MUSLIMS CAN ENJOY FREE DAY TOUR!
This blog is about my visit to the offbeat Al Noor Mosque in Sharjah. It is also close to Dubai and the best part is that it is one of the few mosques non Muslims can enter and avail an hour long free tour! It is also one of the free things to do in Sharjah.
AL NOOR MOSQUE OF SHARJAH LOOKS LIKE THE SULTAN AHMED BLUE MOSQUE OF ISTANBUL.
I have not been to the blue mosque aka Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. But I have seen it in pictures and documentaries. The moment our cab halted at the famous Al Noor Mosque of Sharjah, me and my co-travelers from media collectively gasped, “It looks so much like the Blue Mosque of Turkey!” We unanimously agreed. Our guess was validated when we were told by Shada, our guide from Turkmenistan that its architecture is indeed inspired by Sultan Ahmed Blue Mosque of Istanbul. We walked for a bit, past the kettle shaped shop and curb area, the December breeze making it comfortable for us to venture out in the day time. The last time I was in Dubai was June. It was unbearably hot and I somehow managed to do sightseeing in the noon. I realized December was a great time to be in U.A.E. It is neither chilly nor hot. Just the right temperature.
AL NOOR MOSQUE- ONE OF THE FREE THINGS TO DO IN SHARJAH!
The glass and metal skyscrapers juxtaposed against the traditional Turkish architecture made for an interesting visual. It also served as a metaphor of the complex relationship of the conservative Gulf nation with modernity. Sharjah has more than 700 mosques, some are open only to the royal Emiratis and others are open to Muslims. Al Noor Mosque is the only mosque which is open to visitors from all faiths. The construction of the Al Noor Mosque began in 2003 and it was completed in 2005. It was built by the order of the wife of Sharjah’s ruler, her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed al Qassimi. It is centrally located next to the Al Noor Island and Khaled Lagoon (at Buhaira Corniche). You will pass this mosque many times while you commute through the city.
JOIN THE ONE HOUR LONG TOUR AT THE AL NOOR MOSQUE:
When we were content admiring the architectural beauty of Al Noor Mosque from the outside, we ventured inside. The women in our group were told to wear a burqa while men could go inside as long as our legs were covered. The burqa was available free of cost at the reception. After we deposited our shoes on a rack at the entrance, the local lady guide ushered us towards the Mehrab area. Chairs were arranged in front of a designated area where props associated with Islam and Emirati culture were on display.
Once we were seated, we were asked to roll out the dice one by one. Depending on which number we got, the guide would ask us a question such as, “Are you a coffee or a tea person?” Once everyone was done, the tone of the session turned serious as the erudite guide briefed us about the mosque, Islam and the Emirati lifestyle. Of course, the session was peppered with humorous touches.
INTRODUCTION TO TRADITIONAL DRESSES OF EMIRATIS:
Through pictures and props, the guide showed us the lifestyle of Emiratis before U.A.E. became what it is today. In much of urban and rural parts of U.A.E., the locals still follow these traditions. Ahmed from our media delegate volunteered to dress up like an Emirati on the request of the guide. Another volunteer Surabhi wore the Golden face mask which many women wear in U.A.E. It is fashioned to look like the head of an eagle and women in Bedouin nomadic tribes wear it to show that they are married or engaged. Young urban Emirati women do not wear it unless they want to make a fashion statement. It is mostly popular in rural areas and amongst older women. The traditional face mask is called batoola also spelled as battoulah. Apart from U.A.E., it is also worn by women in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain etc.
THE TOUR TO AL NOOR MOSQUE IS FREE AND YOU GET COMPLIMENTARY DATES AND COFFEE TOO:
We were told about the coffee culture, nomadic lifestyles, rituals and customs, women’s status, the interiors of the mosque etc. The session was open to questions from the visitors. Many of us asked questions and were answered satisfactorily by the guide. The tour ended with complimentary Arabic coffee and dates offered by the guide. The tour is operated by the non profit Sharjah Centre For Cultural Communication. There is no admission fee and registration required and the tour is free of cost. Photography inside and outside the mosque is allowed.
WHAT THE AL NOOR MOSQUE IS LIKE FROM INSIDE?
Our necks were permanently craned as we stepped inside the gorgeous Al Noor Mosque. The first things which won my attention as I entered the mosque were the huge chandeliers that adorn the ceilings. Personally chosen by her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed al Qassimi, the chandelier appears like a flower. Inspired by the Turkish Ottoman architecture, the interiors of the Al Noor Mosque is stunning and is decorated in floral, geometric and interlaced patterns.
THE MINBAR AND MEHRAB OF AL NOOR MOSQUE
As is usual in Islamic architecture, the Minbar was located next to the Mehrab. Minbar is the raised platform, fenced by wooden structure. It is used by the emam to deliver the sermon at the Friday (jumma)prayer. Mehrab is the roofed niche built in the direction of Ka’aba, the sacred building in Mecca. This is also the direction in which Muslims pray across the globe.
WHAT ELSE ATTRACTED MY ATTENTION IN THE AL NOOR MOSQUE
The Al Noor Mosques had many open shelves running across its walls. The shelves contained the books on theology, law, philosophy and of course many copies of the Quran, the holy book of Muslims. Most of the books were in Arabic language.
Smile escaped her lips, when our guide told us that many local Muslims come to the Al Noor Mosque regularly and even leave bookmarks in the books so that they know from where to start. They unofficially own that book till they are finished reading. It is considered blasphemous to keep Quran on the ground, therefore, rihal/tawla is given to the worshippers. These are wooden book holders which the worshippers use while reading. I realized it is also common in Hinduism to use wooden book holders.
ARE WOMEN ALLOWED TO PRAY IN THE AL NOOR MOSQUE?
Yes, women are allowed to pray in Al Noor Mosque. When one of the media delegates asked this question, the lady guide told us that women can pray in a different chamber which also has a separate entry. However, for convenience, many women prefer praying at home. Women in U.A.E. must always be accompanied by a male family member when they go out. This is not always possible. Also, in a patriarchal society, the responsibility of most of the housework and childcare lies with the women. Therefore, women prefer offering prayers in their homes.
RESPONSIBLE TOURISM WHEN IN AL NOOR MOSQUE:
- Please dress conservatively
- Please do not talk loudly inside the mosque
- Please keep your footwear outside
- The Arabic coffee and dates are complimentary. That doesn’t mean you can hog.
- Please be attentive when the guide speaks. You will have plenty of time for photography.
Top Tips for Al Noor Mosque, Sharjah:
- Public visit is allowed every Monday at 10 a.m. (except public holidays)
- The beautiful Al Noor Island, butterfly garden and Khaled Lagoon is at walking distance from the Al Noor Mosque. Do not miss it.
- The Al Noor Mosque looks gorgeous during night.
The view from my #SoulWindow is mashallah!
Disclosure: As is common in the travel industry to host the writers and bloggers for reviews and media reports, I was also invited on the press trip to cover it. However, my views are not influenced by the sponsorship. It is my responsibility to give truthful information to my readers on my blog and I have adhered to that personal policy while writing this blog.
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