Towards the western end of Muscat’s long urban sprawl, the suburb of Ghubrah (pronounced something like “Hob-rah”, with throaty h) is where you’ll find the stunning Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. Opened in 2001, this is the only mosque in Oman open to non-Muslims and one of the largest in the Gulf, with room for an estimated 20,000 worshippers in the two prayer halls and surrounding courtyard. The mosque itself sits within a walled compound with a minaret at each corner, plus a fifth, larger minaret halfway along the northern wall. The overall style is a kind of stripped-down contemporary Islamic, clad in vast quantities of white and red-brown marble. The minarets offer a nod towards traditional Egyptian architecture, while other decorative touches (such as the wooden ceilings and elaborate tilework) were inspired by Omani and Persian traditions. Other architectural details, such as the impressive latticed golden dome over the central prayer hall, are entirely original.
Entrance to the mosque is from its eastern end, through spacious gardens bisected by water channels. The first building you reach is the Ladies’ Prayer Hall (although men are allowed in), relatively plain compared to the rest of the building. Beyond this a pair of distinctively tall and narrow arches, embellished with Qur’anic script, connect the ladies’ prayer hall to the opulent main prayer hall (musalla), supported on four enormous pillars and decorated in whites, greys and sea-greens. The carpet covering the prayer hall floor is the world’s second largest and took 400 female weavers from the Iranian province of Khorasan four years to make – the whole thing measures 60 x 70m, contains 1.7 million knots and weighs 21 tonnes. The huge Swarovski crystal chandelier in the centre of the hall is a staggering 14m tall and was often claimed to be the largest in the world until the construction of an even bigger crystalline monster in Qatar in 2010.
Visiting the mosque, note that its popularity and limited opening hours mean that it often gets absolutely overrun with coach parties by around 10am. The earlier you can visit the better. Visitors are required to dress appropriately (no shorts or uncovered arms, while women are required to cover their heads) and to remove their shoes before entering either prayer hall. Under-10s are not allowed into the main prayer hall.