As I scoured through my daily list of news websites, I came across a BBC article about the grandest mosque in Abu Dhabi. Built in 2007, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque can accommodate up to 40,000 worshippers under its 57 domes. The breathtaking architecture is the result of a deliberate attempt to represent the many cultures within the Islamic world by incorporating Arab, Mughal, Moorish, and Turkish designs. The interior boasts the largest chandelier and hand-woven carpet in the world. Beautiful? Absolutely. Worth it? Not so sure.
In a region where we’ve recently seen people take to the streets due to economic, financial, and social hardships, it feels a little uncomfortable that such a structure should exist. And a religious structure, at that. One of the tenets of Islam is Zakat, or charity. Every Muslim is required to give 2.5% of his/her annual savings to charity every year, assuming such a donation would not put the individual in financial hardship. There’s a level of irony there when so much would be spent on the building of such a grand mosque but not on the worshippers inside of it.
Access to education, jobs, and basic healthcare is startlingly unequal across the Muslim world. For example, Kuwait’s GDP per capita is $54,152, compared to Jordan’s $3,466. The UAE has an adult literacy rate of 90%, whereas half of Pakistan’s adult population is illiterate. The infant mortality rate of Qatar is 8 per 1,000 live births, and Afghanistan’s is 147 per 1,000 live births.*
I understand that it isn’t practical to expect constant handouts from another government or that the other government would keep providing them. But one has to wonder if there can’t be more social and economic cooperation between regional neighbors, at least. Clearly, there are some who have well in excess of what is needed for their populations. Why rely on “the West”, which always seems to raise about a thousand other issues, when you could be relying on those closer to you? It would give the region greater autonomy.
It’s not an easy solution. I don’t deny that. And I might be oversimplifying it. But the idea that such an opulent mosque can exist when so many who could be praying there are affected by hunger and poverty, seems a little wrong to me. Though it may be absolutely necessary for a religious structure to be that big, I wonder if some humility couldn’t be built into it either.
*UN Statistics Division: http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/products/socind/default.htm