Today we had our first free Saturday morning and finally made it to the Grand Mosque for the public tour they offer. We arrived and got some assistance properly donning our head scarves. I was lucky to have travelled with a long skirt and Becca got to take full advantage of the Harry Potter like cloaks they offered instead. We took some obligatory selfies and were on our way.
We started in the big courtyard area which is used to provide additional space for times such as the Ramadan evenings prayers when many more people attend a mosque and particularly the grand mosque. The mosque itself is the 8th largest housing about 11,400 indoors and 45-50,000 in all of the additional spaces such as the courtyard. It’s gets so warm in summer that they actually install misters too keep people cool in such a crowd in the 50 deg (Celsius) weather. Apparently during Ramadan they have had 180,000 people at this one mosque flowing into neighboring parking lots and such. There is also a park and ride service 🙂 Aside from the Grand mosque in Mecca, Medina, and Jeruselum, no other mosque is more important than another so the remainder of the year the flow in the grand mosque is much less as people may perform daily prayers anywhere aside from a bathroom, garbage dump, or graveyard. It is evident within our daily lives that the ability to perform daily prayers is accessible to all with prayer mats in every clinic room and prayer rooms or a mosque within a block. Previous legislation encouraged a mosque every 15-20 houses so there are quite a lot even surrounding the grand mosque itself.
We made our way inside where we were absolutely stunned at the beauty. I’ve been in a couple other mosques but I think this one really surprised me at the juxtaposition of the generally simplistic decoration on the outside vs. the interior. It is decorated with tiles, chandeliers, and gold hailing from Morocco, Iran, Italy and so on. The decorations are all various styles of calligraphy and mosaic or geometric designs. The floor is covered in the prayer mat style but as prayers are performed shoulder to shoulder they do not actually create separate spaces. The center is an elaborately decorated dome. A mosque does not require a dome but its main purpose is for increased acoustics so everyone can here the Imam, or leader of the prayer. There is another domed inlay at the front to ensure his voice projects back and into the main dome overhead. Anyone can be the Imam for a given daily prayer and those in attendance often elect someone based on knowledge or seniority. However, we were told that even a fifteen year old boy held the role of Imam for a group of 100,000+ last Ramadan. I thought that was pretty cool but also a lot of pressure. We were able to explore all the nooks and ended in the Emirs room off to the side. This was equally, if not more elaborate, given the room was hand carved and took two years to complete. The Emir comes at least once a year during Ramadan to pray alongside the people of Kuwait but he still gets a special entrance.
We lucked out that we were right around the corner to Souk Al Mabarakiya (featured earlier on our tour with Shebina). This time we nearly walked the alleys and shops like experts circling back to purchase some gifts we eyed on our first trip. The highlight again was seeing Ahmed our friendly date vendor who encouraged us to quite literally try every date he had while we waited for him to weigh and wrap up our loot. Tbd whether anyone gets a taste of the glory or if customs confiscates them all. We decided that we needed to embrace the dining experience at the souk as well. Though arbitrarily picking a spot along the strip of restaurants with an English menu, I think we lucked out with some decent food and of course, our favorite, lemon mint with shway (little) sugar. It was refreshing as the heat is picking up and we hadn’t quite acclimated in our long sleeves out on the sidewalk. We looked up and realized we were in the Middle East and we were not stressed about getting through the shops or navigating our way home. In fact we felt quite natural this particular day and it felt pretty good 🙂