Alyssa Bobst is Program Support Coordinator at Smithsonian Journeys. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, with minors in International Studies and Arabic, from Washington University in St. Louis. Recently, she accompanied Smithsonian Journeys travelers through the Arabian Gulf. Click here for Alyssa’s full bio.
Dusk falls at Bahrain's Grand Mosque. It is the country's largest building. Photo: Alyssa Bobst
One of my favorite things about traveling throughout the Muslim world is hearing the call to prayer. The muezzin (a chosen person at the mosque who leads the call to prayer five times a day) chants melodically to Muslims over loudspeakers from one of the mosque’s minarets. At strategic points in a given city, you can hear multiple muezzins raising their voices to the community from every direction.
I arrived at the Grand Mosque in Manama
, the capital of the Kingdom of Bahrain, just in time for the 5:00 pm
call to prayer. The sun was just beginning to set and the colorful backdrop only made the grand architecture of the mosque more stunning. Cars pulled into the parking lot and people made their way inside the mosque to the prayer halls. The main prayer hall holds 5,000 worshippers and the courtyard accommodates another 2,000 people. This stop at the Grand Mosque was one of those moments where time stands still and you take a step back and a deep breath, and revel in your surroundings. With the sight, sound, spirituality, and tradition of this experience, a calming peace filled my senses.
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Photo: Alyssa Bobst.
The other mosques we visited in the region took my breath away for different reasons. Each structure told a different and unique story about the history of the local community, and on a larger scale, the country, which was reflected in the design of the interior and exterior architecture. The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman is set apart from residential areas and accommodates 20,000 worshippers. I was surprised to learn that it fills to capacity daily with people drawn from Muscat and the outlying areas.
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE, third largest in the world, welcomes 40,000 worshippers with ornate and intricate designs on the walls, floors, and the structure itself. Each mosque that we visited was a visually stunning and beautiful representation of each country.
Click here to learn more about our tour to the Arabian Gulf.
Click here for a recent article from Smithsonian magazine on Sufi Islam.
To read more about Alyssa’s trip, click here for her personal blog.
Do you visit sacred sites when you travel? How does it make you feel? Share your comments below.