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Ramadan at South Asia's Biggest Mosque - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Islamabad, Asharq Al-Awsat—The majestic Faisal Mosque, visible on city’s skyline from miles away, attracts hundreds of worshipers from all around the city for Taraweeh prayers, special evening services held during Ramadan.

Faisal Mosque is located on northern tip of Pakistan’s federal capital city, Islamabad. It is situated at the north end of Faisal Avenue, putting it at the northernmost end of the city and at the foot of Margalla Hills, the westernmost foothills of the Himalayas.

Far away from the residential quarters of the city, people do not normally throng the mosque. Besides, each sector of Islamabad has its own mosque, and there are hundreds of privately constructed mosques in the city. But the situation in Ramadan is totally different. “The number of worshipers varies on different days of the week. . . . On weekends, the number crosses 1,000 mark,” the organizer of Ramadan-related events in the mosque, Tahir Siddique, told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“In the month of Ramadan, the main event is Taraweeh and a lot of people turn up for Taraweeh prayers” he said.

He explained to Asharq Al-Awsat that Qaris, people who recite the Qu’ran, from Arab countries are not usually willing to come to Pakistan during Ramadan to recite the Taraweeh prayers because they are in great demand in their home countries during the holy month.

“We hold a international Qu’ran recitation competition during Ramadan, in which Qaris from all over the Muslim world participate,” said Siddique, adding that the event will be held again this year.

Only the first six rows inside the globe-shaped main hall of the mosques are filled with worshipers during the initial days of the holy month. Powerful lights—and an even more powerful sound system—greet the worshipers as they enter the main hall for Taraweeh prayers.

But the presence of worshipers increases dramatically in the last week of the holy month. People not only from Islamabad but from all over the country throng the mosque in great numbers.

“We invited 30 Qaris from around the country to complete a recitation of the Qu’ran on last three days of Ramadan,” said Siddique. “The first and last chapters of the Qu’ran are read by our own Qaris and rest of the 28 chapters are read by Qaris who are selected by Ministry of Religious Affairs in a country-wide competition.”

The last three days of Taraweeh at Faisal Mosque are also telecast live on the state-owned television, Pakistan Television (PTV), so that the recitation of the holy Qu’ran can be viewed and heard live throughout the country.

Islamabad’s majestic Faisal Mosque was primarily designed as a national mosque in the mid-1970s. A Pakistani official at the Ministry of Religious Affairs told Asharq Al-Awsat that Faisal Mosque was conceived as the National Mosque of Pakistan and named after the late King Faisal Bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, who supported and financed the project.

Pakistani officials said that the idea for the mosque began in 1966, when the late King Faisal Bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia supported an initiative by the Pakistani government to build a national mosque in Islamabad during an official visit to Pakistan.

The mosque’s architecture is strikingly modern and unique, lacking both the traditional domes and arches of most other mosques around the world. Faisal Mosque is instead an eight-sided concrete shell inspired by a desert Bedouin’s tent, flanked by four unusual minarets inspired by Turkish architecture.

The interior of the main tent-shaped hall is covered in white marble and decorated with mosaics, calligraphy by the Pakistani artist Sadeqain, and a spectacular Turkish-style chandelier.

It has a covered area of 54,000 square feet (5,000 square meters) and has a capacity to accommodate approximately 300,000 worshipers: 100,000 in its main prayer hall, courtyard and porticoes and another 200,000 in the adjoining grounds.

Still the largest mosque in South Asia, the Faisal Mosque was the largest mosque in the world from 1986 until 1993, when it was overtaken in size by the newly completed Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco. Subsequent expansions of the Masjid Al-Haram (Grand Mosque) of Mecca and the Al-Masjid Al-Nabawi (Prophet’s Mosque) in Medina during the 1990s relegated Faisal Mosque to fourth place in terms of size.