Life in Kuwait: Meandering through a Mosque
Hmm… perhaps I should rename this post because I didn’t just go to any mosque… I went to The Grand Mosque. And yes, unlike most other things in Kuwait, it really is grand! After being in Kuwait for three months, I have tried to visit some of the attractions in the hope of understanding and learning more about Kuwaiti culture. Unfortunately I have been disappointed by some of the things (House of Mirrors) that I read were amazing online. However, my visit to The Grand Mosque was an experience worth sharing with the world so here goes!
If you live in Kuwait (or any other Muslim country), you are probably familiar with being woken up by the early call to prayer bellowing across the air as it fills your home and the surrounding neighbourhood with sound. You may have also noticed people entering and leaving different mosques at various times of the day. For the average person, even one living in the Gulf, mosques are an unexplored territory; imposing and enigmatic structures holding secrets that only Muslims are privy to. You want to go in but you don’t know how to dress… you don’t know what time you can go in… you don’t know if your presence would be welcome or if you would be chased away… and can you even snap a picture of the impressive dome from the outside? It’s a conundrum of questions and you end up dragging your eyes away and going off on your daily business.
The Grand Mosque in Kuwait offers free guided tours at certain times of day (so as to not disrupt prayers) and I HIGHLY recommend doing one of these tours. Not only will you finally enter the Secret Society of Mosque Goers, you will learn SO much about Islam, Islamic culture, history and architecture.
My friends and I arrived at the Mosque at 9am and the tour started at 9:30. During this time, you are given appropriate clothing to wear (an abaya and/or headscarf for females) while you wait for the tour to start.
The exterior of the mosque is unassuming (my architect husband would probably disagree here) although large. I did like the old-world lanterns hanging in between the columns (pillars? Again, I can see Fox shaking his head wondering why I never remember anything he says) but the courtyard looked like a driving school grounds with all of the traffic cones spread out across the Italian marble tiles. How I regretted forgetting my GoPro at home… I really could’ve done with a wide-angle lens!
Before we could enter the mosque, we had to remove our shoes. If you are going in winter, like me, do remember to wear socks (of course I didn’t) so your toes don’t freeze. Now I have been in many mosques in many different places including the impressive Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Yet, when I walked into this mosque, my breath was quite literally taken away.
Upon entering, you are overcome by the striking effect of the blue and gold carpets, the intricate geometric mosaics lining the impressive walls and my favourite- the gorgeous Arabic calligraphy along the various surfaces. There is so much of beauty in this room, drawing your eyes from the soft carpets to the ornate carvings on the walls and up to the artwork underneath the picturesque dome. Words are really useless here so let the pictures do the work:
The ruling family in Kuwait has spared no expense in creating this remarkable and dazzling place of worship and it is apparent in every element at the Mosque. The architecture and design has Iranian, Moroccan and Persian influences making it a visual feast for the eyes.
The chandeliers hanging across the ceiling enrich the elaborate patterns on the wall. The dome was especially inspiring where the 99 names of Allah are displayed on the concave surface. The guide, Ms. Iman Martin, was exceptionally knowledgeable about all aspects of the mosque and Islamic culture with the added bonus of being quite humorous.
My favourite part of the mosque was a side room that is reserved for the Emir and his guests when he comes to worship. Yes he worships in the same space as everyone else – but afterwards uses this space to entertain his guests or greet other worshippers on Eid. The most extraordinary part of the room is the hand-carved gypsum ceilings. I still can’t get over the inconceivable amount of detail especially the way certain parts of the ceiling were inspired by stalactites in caves.
Also in this area, is a copy of a handwritten Quran in Kufic script. It’s a page-by-page copy of one of the earliest hand printed Quraans, an example of which is now in Istanbul at Topkappi Palace.
The Grand Mosque of Kuwait is situated between the political and financial institutions of the city in downtown Kuwait City. It opened in 1986 and the main worship hall can house over 10,000 men and the women’s prayer room up to 950 on regular days of worship. It really is a worthwhile hour and a half filled with thought-provoking information and exquisite sights.
We did our tour through the AWARE center in Kuwait. It was absolutely free and we were welcomed with refreshments and appropriate clothing (in case we did not have). Contact them to see when their next tour is, remember your socks and go, go, go!