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In the spring of 2016 I was travelling in the Persian Gulf. In Abu Dhabi I decided, with some apprehension, to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Opened in 2007, this mosque is advertised as one of the world’s biggest, with the largest central chandelier, the largest carpet, etc. I wondered if I might be confronted with a Disney theme park, a vulgar display of wealth by nouveau riche oil sheikhs. After all, oil was discovered in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) only a couple of generations ago. Prior to the discovery the locals eked out a precarious subsistence desert existence, while today many Emiratis are counted among the top 1 per cent on the globe.
After I made my way across a vast parking lot under the brutal midday desert sun (record highs were being recorded across the Gulf) and past the checkpoint where women visitors were being scrutinized for appropriate head coverings and lengths of sleeves, I caught my first glimpse of glittering white domes and minarets. From a distance a bit like a Hollywood set for an Arabian Nights epic, but rather beautiful against the brilliant blue sky.
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