Driving along the highway, the silhouette of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is an instantly recognisable part of Muscat’s skyline and the sprawling complex has the capacity to accommodate 20,000 people during prayer times, yet for all this, I have never actually prayed there.
It’s a personal decision really, as I prefer to pray in the mosques close to my home because everyone I know is there; I am surrounded by family and the friends I grew up with.
My past visits to the Grand Mosque have mainly been for photo shoots and last week was the first time I’d visited during Ramadan and specifically, during Iftar.
I’d seen pictures on social media, so was expecting a crowd, but the sight that greeted me when I arrived was nothing short of astounding. More than 100 people from countries including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, as well as Oman, lined the carpets laid out in the courtyard, on which sets of laban, water, tea, coffee and dates had been arranged. After the initial offering had been consumed, volunteers began to bring around big silver platters loaded up with chicken madhbi. The organisation and distribution was handled with military precision.
With the sun well and truly set, darkness was slowly creeping in and I went to break my own fast, with the intention of returning to capture some atmospheric images after night prayers.
Returning at around 9.30pm, I found the gates were just about to close, but managed to use my charm to get permission to slip inside and snap the images I was after. The timing really couldn’t have been better, as with all the worshippers gone, I had the entire Grand Mosque complex to myself. With walls rising around me and my footsteps echoing off the marble, I felt dwarfed by the mosque’s enormity.
While I’ve driven past the mosque hundreds of times at night, this was the first time I’d been able to get up close to it in the darkness and it was a stunning sight.
I was given a whole new perspective on the magnificent place of worship, watching intricately detailed shadows shimmer on the walls, cast by the Arabic-style lamps which hung from ceilings and arches to guide my way.
Shadow and light are two things that have been manipulated brilliantly in the building’s design, from the huge dome, which glows an inviting yellow colour, to the imposing marble arches and right down to the details of the intricate carvings on the smallest of features.
My favourite shot was taken looking down a corridor with lamps and arches on either side. It’s a simple image, but spoke volumes to me of the sanctity of the mosqie, together with the awe-inspiring power of modern Islamic architecture.
I also urge any visitors to the Grand Mosque to simply look up. Several times I pointed my camera to the ceiling to capture some images that really play with the eye’s sense of perception. The carving and sculpting of the roof really is breathtaking, but when you look at them in a still image, they could easily be mistaken for something flat, like a Persian carpet.
These are just one of the many things that the camera simply cannot do justice to. When viewed in real life with the naked eye, the depth of the mosque and the transition from light to dark through layer upon layer is staggering.
As I exited, the moon was shining brightly in the pitch-black sky and I looked back to take one last shot of this stunning building against the backdrop of darkness. Although my pictures attempt to capture the beauty of the Grand Mosque, they fail to convey the full impact and the only way to truly experience the wonder is to go and see for yourself.
How to get there:
The Grand Mosque is in Ghubra South and is easily visible from Muscat’s highway.
GPS Location: N23° 35’ 3” E58° 23’ 18”