Monday, June 20, 2011

Al Ain: Sheikha Salama Bint Betty Mosque

I actually think this is an instance when the real thing surpasses the architect's rendering. This is Sheikha Salama Bint Betty Mosque, named after Sheik Zayed's late mom, newly opened in Al Ain. The old Sheikha  Salama Mosque that was on this site was torn down in 2007, right around the time my sister showed up in the UAE for the very first time. 

Although I can't find any real articles about the mosque, word of mouth says it was designed to put a modern twist on traditional design. The architect obviously took a little bit of old, a little bit of new and mixed it up with a whole lot of green. 
 First the old. The whole mosque is finished in a sand-coloured rock which echoes the colour and texture of nearby Jebel Hafeet and the Hajar Mountains in the area. The minarets  are also a twist on the old wind towers that were built in houses to cool them before the advent of air conditioning. The designs around the top of the towers are very traditional for this area and consist of bands of flowers and geometric shapes plus geometrically patterned screens.

The layout and the plan of the mosque all follow the usual layout, with a Qibla wall facing Mecca and a large courtyard with an ablution fountain in the centre.

 Ablution fountain - the water inside was HOT!

However, there are some features of this mosque that have been added for modernity. Inside, this mosque has no dome, (highly unusual!). The roof slopes upwards towards Mecca and is outfitted with dozens of little windows to take advantage of natural light. Directly under the mosque, there is an underground car park, although it's believed most people will walk to this mosque due to its downtown location.

As I stood and took this picture in the searing heat, I noticed my eyeballs were actually sweating, or maybe the sweat from my forehead was dripping in my eyes. Either way it was disgusting and felt awful. Please think about that while viewing this picture.

Lastly, this mosque has been designed with the environment in mind. Al Ain is a relentlessly hot place in the summer. The wind towers pull the cool winds downwards into the building and the light colour is to deflect heat. The walls are made of thick rock, insulating the inside from the outside heat. Sheikha Salama's doors are closed during the day, keeping the cool air in, and the courtyard is completely covered with a large tarp to keep the courtyard in shade at all times. It's rumored to have solar powered lighting at night. 

I wish I could find more information on this mosque, and even find out if foreigners will be allowed to enter this one as they are at Sheikh Zayed's Mosque in Abu Dhabi. I'd kick off my shoes and don the abaya for this! I'm quite taken with this building.

If the stars align and the cards are right, I may find myself in Al Ain again this summer and it will be my personal mission to learn more (and hopefully gain access if allowed), to this mosque.

Updates to come....

*Update* The stars aligned! I'm in Al Ain till the end of July!

Keepin' the town square shiny in 50 degrees...


  1. How interesting. If I ever get back there, I will have to go see it. In the mean time thanks for the pictures and commentary. I was in Al Ain for my first two weeks--loved it.

  2. I watched the old one get ripped down. It was pretty strange to see a fallen mosque like that. I'd taken photos of t's destruction but lost them all in my hard drive crash. Looks like a nice building though!