Anybody visiting Abu Dhabi definitely wouldn’t miss a chance to see the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. After all, it is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates – and the third-largest mosque in the world. Worshipers and tourists travel from countries all around the world to see this architectural marvel. This is reflected in the number of visitors: for the second year in a row, TripAdvisor users ranked the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque as the second-most popular attraction in the world!
After all, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is full of record-breaking items, including the world’s largest chandelier, and the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet, which measures 5,627 square meters and lies in the mosque’s impressive prayer hall. And now this mosque, which looks like something straight out of the Arabian Nights, is home to yet another attraction. On January 28, 2020, Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed opened an exhibition there that has now become a favorite topic in the Arab media. Entitled “Coins of Islam: History Revealed,” the exhibition displays coins dating from antiquity to the 20th century.
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque: A Center of Education
In order to understand why a numismatic exhibition might be opened in a mosque, you have to remember that, as well as the rooms required for prayer, every mosque should also provide space for religious education. That’s why the “madrasa” or “medrese,” that is, schools for all fields of study connected to Islam, are traditionally housed within the mosque. In Abu Dhabi, this function of the mosque is taken very seriously: that’s why the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is not only home to one of the most important libraries focusing on Islamic history and culture, but also to an exhibition center, intended to help visitors understand Islam in an accessible way, and from as many different perspectives as possible.
Coins of Islam: History Revealed
And, since coins are essential for reconstructing the early history of Islam, this center now features a numismatic exhibition, opened on January 28, 2020. This exhibition was initiated by Dr. Alain Baron, founder of Numismatica Genevensis.
Under Royal Patronage
Dr. Baron was able to win the patronage of her royal highness Fatima bint Mubarak Al Ketbi, the third wife of Sheikh Zayed, to whom this mosque is dedicated. Sheikha Fatima, who officially holds the titles of “mother of sheikhs” and “ Mother of the Nation,” is also famous for championing women’s rights, which is why, in an official statement, she expressed her support for the central objective of the exhibition, or, as it was reported in the press release:
“Her Highness expressed how impressed she was by the many coins engraved with images of influential women who left their mark on Islamic history. Striking coins carrying the names of these great women is an authentic display of appreciation towards them and highlights how Islam honored women throughout history by situating them at the core foundation of societies.” The press release continues: “It allows both men and women to learn about the flourishing of early Islam across various successive eras and revealing its hidden gems and vast impact.”
His highness Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed opened the exhibition by walking through its six sections. The Sheikh’s personal guide for this walk was Dr. Alain Baron, who is responsible for organizing the exhibition and collecting the numismatic content.
From Pre-Islamic Coins to the Founder of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The exhibition begins with the most important coins types that existed in antiquity, before Islam. The second section is dedicated to the earliest types of Islamic coins. In the third section, visitors learn about how coinage changed across the Islamic dynasties, while the fourth section focuses on coin designs and motifs. Women and women’s history are explored in the fifth section, while the sixth and final section is dedicated to the founder of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
The Emirates News Agency has posted this video of the exhibition opening online.
This video shows the exhibition from the perspective of a visitor.
This video shows the most important items in the exhibition with English commentary.
Read a report on the exhibition here.
This is the statement given by her royal highness Fatima bint Mubarak about the exhibition.
On TripAdvisor, you can view 44,892 photos and read 33,908 reviews of the mosque.
CNN has published an extensive report about the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.