Muscat’s Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque was inaugurated by Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said himself on 4 May 2001, as a gift to the nation to celebrate his third decade in power. It’s certainly the grandest of the 50 mosques that the Sultan commissioned during his almost half-century reign, including Catholic and Protestant churches and Hindu temples.
His leadership and policies found favour with many people, as he spearheaded Oman towards becoming a modern state, while preserving age-old traditions and the Islamic way of life. His reputation for delivering on his promises saw him invest in a highly educated nation with no distinction between men and women and an interconnected network of paved roads and infrastructure, as well as improved healthcare facilities and the establishment of telecommunication networks.
An architecture competition took place in 1993 to select the best design for the mosque. Once a winner was chosen, the mosque took six years and seven months to build. It features a combination of Islamic, Middle Eastern and Omani architectural styles and was built using 30,000 tonnes of pink sandstone imported from India, as well as local granite and white marble.
Unlike its neighbours, which often resort to grandstanding, Oman’s architectural style recalls its heritage by forgoing glass-encrusted skyscrapers in favour of low-rise, whitewashed buildings that celebrate the country’s history through elaborate latticework, intricate mosaics and ornate carvings of flowers and Allah’s name.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is the country’s tallest structure, with an imposing 90-metre minaret. The mosque has four further minarets, and together the five towers symbolise the five pillars of Islam: profession of faith, prayers, giving of alms, fasting and pilgrimage.
This mosque is Oman’s largest. It has the capacity for 20,000 worshippers, with 6,500 in the main musalla prayer hall, 750 in the women’s musalla and a further 8,000 in the outer paved grounds, plus additional space in the interior courtyard and along the passageways.
The enormous Italian-manufactured chandelier was once the world’s largest, until the Reflective Flow chandelier in Qatar claimed the title. Regardless, it’s still exceptionally impressive. The 24-carat gold-plated chandelier is trimmed with 600,000 Swarovski crystals and houses 1,122 bulbs. It’s located at the centre of the men’s prayer hall and is surrounded by 34 smaller versions found across the mosque.
Equally remarkable is the hand-loomed prayer carpet within the main musalla. It took 600 Iranian women four years to complete the 21-tonne carpet, which consists of 1.7 million knots and features 28 natural vegetable dyes. It was the world’s largest single-piece carpet until the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi snatched the title.
The double-storey Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque library is a cultural landmark that’s representative of Oman’s contemporary renaissance inspired by the late Sultan. More than 23,342 books on the topics of Islamic culture, natural science, fine arts, philosophy and psychology are found within its six sections, which also includes a children’s section. The collection of predominantly Arabic and English books grows larger each year.
Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the mosque every day except Friday, from 8.30am until 11am. Visitors are asked to dress modestly and in a way that befits a place of worship. The café and gift shop at the entrance rent out abayas, full-length dresses that cover ankles, as well as scarves for women, who are also required to cover their hair and should not wear tight-fitting clothing. Children under the age of ten are not allowed inside the prayer halls, and the use of mobile phones should be avoided as a sign of respect.
Virtual tours of the mosque, either with or without a VR headset, can be taken at www.sultanqaboosgrandmosque.com.