As we circled the Al Fateh Grand Mosque, in the Gulf state of Bahrain, I couldn’t help feeling tiny. An enormous dome framed by two proud pillars loomed overhead, and I couldn’t wait to see what’s inside. Shamefully, in my 28 years on this planet I’ve never entered a mosque before and I didn’t know what to expect.
It was coming up for midday and the call to prayer sounded out its familiar cry across the city. We would have to wait, at least for a few minutes to enter. And wow, was it wort the wait.
The sign outside welcomes all religions and faiths, and also tourists to enter its grand walls and learn about the religion which created this piece of architectural mastery. Entrance is free and we couldn’t have asked for a warmer welcome. Although I was already dressed fairly modestly for western standards, I was asked to wear an abaya (a loose robe), and to cover my hair (they provide abayas and headscarfs for all women who enter the mosque). They also handed out free juice and chocolates while we waited and made sure we were comfortable and happy.
You must be accompanied by a guide to enter the mosque itself, and once our guide arrived we removed our shoes and entered. We were greeted by an impressive outside atrium and then moved inside to the main prayer room, which was even more impressive. A soft (Irish) wool carpet underfoot kept my tootsies toasty whilst our knowledgable guide explained all about the structure. With elements from countries all over the world including Italy, France, Ireland, Austria and of course Bahrain, it’s a bit of a melting pot.
The simple design was beautiful, focusing on geometric shapes and culminating in the enormous domed ceiling overhead. Our guide told how on Fridays and at the end of two festivals a year (month of pilgrimage and end of Ramadan), the great hall is packed with up to 5,000 worshippers, with 2,000 more outside the mosque too. People kneel shoulder to shoulder and foot to foot to pack in as many as possible.
The call the prayer sounds five times a day, and this changes with the timing of the sun. Our guide explained that the 5 times are; sunrise, when the sun is directly overhead, when the sun is twice the length of the object, dusk and nightfall.
We learnt all about the different prayers used for different personal circumstances and finished our tour with a view across the mosque from the upper balcony.
I have to admit, I really wasn’t expecting much from my first Mosque experience, but the amazing architecture coupled with the warm and welcoming atmosphere left me with a calm and serene feeling with stayed with me for the rest of the day. I’m not a religious person but I can appreciate someone else’s faith, and from my experience at the Al Fateh Mosque, in Bahrain, I would definitely recommend that you visit this peaceful location and make up your own mind.