New Dubai mosque honours the glory of God

It was in early March when the weather was still cool enough to pause for a moment after loading the Prado with groceries, that shoppers at the Spinneys supermarket in Umm Suqeim first noticed four scaffolding-clad towers emerging above the rooftops of nearby villas and mansions

A few weeks later, the steel lattice was removed to reveal a quadrangle of slender pencil-like towers, each topped with a powder blue pinnacle with a hue almost exactly matched to the dusty winter skies of Dubai creating an illusion that seemed to leave the crescent moons of the minarets floating between heaven and earth.

Close up, the bulk of the building was still concealed from curious eyes by tall sheets of painted plywood, but teams of workers could be seen labouring with intensity.

Its almost daily progress was monitored by the residents of Jumeirah and Al Safa, and the parents and children of nearby schools who drove past it twice a day.

It was the children who first described the building, comparing it to the soaring white and blue turrets of the ethereal castle that appears at the start of every Walt Disney cartoon.

In fact, its correct name is the Al Farooq Omar bin Al Khattab Mosque and Islamic Centre, and the external architecture is based on the magnificent Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, more commonly known as the Blue Mosque for the thousands of Iznek tiles that colour its interior walls and arches.

The Al Farooq Mosque in Dubai is being built not on the orders of an Ottoman sultan, but by Khalaf Al Habtoor, the chairman of the business empire that bears his family name and whose interests stretch from vehicle sales, schools and hotels to engineering and publishing.

When it is ready for prayers later this month, and on the eve of Ramadan, the Al Farooq Mosque will be one of the largest in the country, capable of accommodating about 2,000 worshippers and second in capacity to the colossal Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

The building is a gift to Dubai, to all those who live, visit and work in the city. As well as a place of worship, there will be a research library and Islamic centre with a lecture hall. Along with the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the Jumeirah Mosque it will be one of three mosques in the UAE that opens its interior to non-Muslims.

The intention, says Mr Al Habtoor, is to create a space for dialogue among the three Abrahamic faiths – the People of the Book – Jews, Christians and Muslims. “We made this centre so that the three religions can become closer and remove the differences between them.

“A lot of people are not aware that these religions are so close that the differences are like a hair crack.

The mosque is named after Umar bin Al Khattab, a companion of the Prophet Mohammed who became the second Caliph after Abu Bakr and was given the title Al Farooq, meaning someone who distinguished truth from falsehood.

An earlier, smaller building had stood on the site, a larger corner plot behind Al Wasl Road, since the 1980s, but it had become crowded during the most popular prayer times and three years ago, the Habtoor family decided to replace it with something larger. And so, early last summer, the demolition squads moved in.

The man in charge of building the complex is Yussef Shalabi, a Lebanese who is the director of projects and real estate for the Habtoor Group. Like many middle aged men, Mr Shalabi gives an initial impression of world-weariness that cannot conceal an uncompromising approach to building schedules and a meticulous attention to detail