Visiting religious places is always a humbling experience. I believe in God and the omnipresent power of the universe, which guides our move within this supreme cosmos. I am a practising Catholic – though I can neither claim to be a serious church-goer, nor an authority on the Bible. Nonetheless, I am a believer, who is still trying to appropriate the best of what her faith has to teach her, each day of her life. Our faith is as evolving as ourselves. We keep imbibing new value systems, without shirking the old completely. Religion, I personally feel, is the essence of mankind. Even if we don’t claim to belong to a particular faith, our own morality that guides us, is akin to religion. We all need something to cling on to, mostly, to confirm our right actions and to question the wrong ones. This makes the purpose of religion – despite being a melting pot of different faiths – universal. So why differentiate?
That brings me back to my fondness for churches, temples, mosques and shrines. Despite being a Christian, I have never distinguished, when entering a religious site. Here in, I find a semblance of peace. It’s true that you don’t need one singular place to connect with God. But the sheer magnificence and beauty of these places, reel me into imagining what heaven would look and feel like. Would it be as meditatively inspiring? Would it be so architecturally grandiose as it is here? Would it be the one place where I could find God? I am yet to figure out what attracts me to these places. I just know that when I visit what we describe as the ‘temple of God’, I unconsciously switch off from the rest of the world. Whatever happens then, is worth experiencing.
A few months ago, I visited the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat – one of the grandest in the Gulf region, boasting of a capacity seating of 20,000 worshipers. It was my first visit inside a mosque. It’s surprising, what took me so long to visit the place, considering I lived just a stone’s throw away from it and that this place made for a stunning backdrop, during my every day commute. Fortunately, when my brother came down to spend his summer holidays in May this year, we decided to include it on our must-see places.
The mosque is right in the heart of the city, and just a 20 minute-drive from the Seeb International Airport. Non-muslims can visit the place between Saturday and Thursday from 8 to 11am (Entry is free). Out of respect for Islamic culture, women should dress modestly when visiting. Don’t forget to carry a shawl or scarf along with you, which you’d need to wrap around your head before entering the premises.
The mosque sits on a vast stretch of land, ringed by manicured gardens on all sides. It’s definitely an architectural marvel to behold. The main domed-structure is surrounded by five towering minarets. In the night, the luminous golden-orange glow that lights up the majestic dome, illuminates Muscat’s skyline. The strong undercurrents of contemporary Islamic and Persian designs are visible throughout the interiors of the Grand Mosque. I visited one of the prayer halls, which was opened to the public, and the crystal chandelier was worth stressing my eyes over. So is the Persian carpet, which measures 70m by 60m and is the second-largest hand-loomed Iranian carpet in the world, weaved by over 600 women over a period of four years (Source: Lonely Planet). I don’t want to ruin your experience of this place with my elaborate description, so I’d let the photos do the talking. Sadly, I didn’t own a DSLR then, so I settled for my Lenovo phone camera. I wasn’t, however, disappointed with the outcome.
What I took back from my visit, however, was surreal peace. It’s the calm you feel, when you are in absolute communion with yourself. Inside this majesticity, you become a curious spectator, observing everything around you, praying within you and probably wondering, if God’s ever listening.
The majestic Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque: