The Grand Mosque Muscat, Oman

By Abi King | Middle East

Sep 10

Stunning ceiling of the Grand Mosque in Muscat Oman

With heat so hot it pressed like a physical weight all around me, I stepped into the cool of the bright white, fight white Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, neighbour to Saudi, capital of Oman.

White to reflect the heat, white to fight the heat, white, bright, dazzling white, sunbeam white in a disorienting bright blue sky.

Pregnant, and more than a little lightheaded, I needed the sanctuary of the cool.

And I entered, dressed in white.

Outside the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Oman

I feel a flutter of something, I’m not sure what, whenever I enter a house of religious worship. A sense of the divine? Uncertainty at not belonging? A slight anxiety, perhaps, of causing inadvertent offence, no matter how modestly I dress, no matter how hard I try.

I take my cues from people around me, as all good travellers tell me I should, but still the nuance eludes, the risk remains high.

I stand mystified by the way different stories have taken hold in different places – and how different interpretations of these have led to such bloodshed over the years.

But mostly I marvel at the vision and talent expressed by human eyes and hands in service to their gods.

Chandelier at Sultan Qaboos Mosque

If the artefacts of gold in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt are among the oldest I have seen, perhaps the Sultan Qaboos Mosque in Oman is one of the newest.

Commissioned in 1992 and involving more than 300 000 tonnes of Indian sandstone, it stands as modern as a temple can be, letters curling in gold to reflect words spoken nearly 1500 years ago.

And it is beautiful.

Truly, genuinely, awe-inspiringly beautiful.

Inscriptions in the Grand Mosque in Oman

Catholic cathedrals often intrigue me but they rarely soothe my eyes.

But here, in the heat, in a place where I will never belong, the blues and the golds, the ceruleans and sapphires reach into a part of me and seem to touch my soul.

I’ve had nothing but happiness on the ground in this country and now I stand on its soil filled with nothing but hope.

Hope that the baby inside me will grow happy and strong. And hope that the world does the same.

The white stone in the piercing blue sky in Muscat Oman

Update – I’m no longer in Oman (!) and did in fact go on to have the baby :-) But I wanted to share how I felt at the time. As for the rest of the world, well, events don’t look too promising at the moment, do they? But let’s live in hope anyway!

What do you think? How do you feel when you visit religious sites?

Read more about Oman

You may also be interested in: a road trip through Oman and street art in Oman.

Fish sculpture in the harbour in Oman

Fish sculpture in the harbour in Oman


About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more.

  • It always fascinates me to get a glimpse of another culture but I am equally worried about inadvertently offending. I think people can at least tell if you’re trying, making the effort to be respectful – or so I hope! Oman is somewhere which I’d love to visit, and the mosque even more so especially after this wonderful description.

    • Abi King says:

      Yes, I agree! I have to hope that intentions trump honest mistakes. I’m fascinated by the Middle East in general but Oman has a calmer, more gentle touch than many of its neighbours. Plus, it’s beautiful. Hope you get there – but that massive hordes of tourists don’t! ;-)

  • Global Nomads says:

    Must have been a truly uncomfortable experience roaming there fully clothed from head to toe in the heat of the day. We were filming there well before mid day and even then it was painful for all females that got jumped by the religious clothing checking police before letting us enter. There was a lot of pregnant women and couples in Oman this year thanks to zika virus fears driving them away from South America.

    • Abi King says:

      Good point about zika, I hadn’t spotted the trend myself but it makes perfect sense. And, yes, I did avoid a few places just to be on the safe side. My skin burns fairly easily so I’m usually covered up in loose whites anyway so it wasn’t too bad. Just the headscarf for the mosque itself, then back to a wide-brimmed hat in the gardens again. But I definitely had to pace myself more than usual in the heat while pregnant, that’s for sure. What were you filming? Would be good to see it.

      • Global Nomads says:

        That video was for a website we made for a local company organising Oman tours (you should be able to find it also by searching “Aywa tours Oman” if the link does not work). We stayed altogether 3 months in Oman doing work exchange. That’s how we usually finance our life on the road.

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