Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It also attracts more tourists than any other destination in Abu Dhabi and rightly so. It is a masterpiece in terms of art and architecture. Just as Abu Dhabi is known for Gold-to-Go vending machines and gold-sprinkled cappuccinos, this mosque has pristine columns with golden palm leaves. Initiated by the late president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, it took 11 years to construct this grand mosque. The mosque and its prayer rooms are open to everyone, irrespective of their faith.
Even though it was constructed in 2007, the marble floors and columns with golden palm leaves still glitter like they are new. During a casual visit, I decided to look beyond the touristy side of this majestic structure and understand the secret behind its glittering floors and glistening walls. What I discovered is that while citizens and tourists enjoy the serenity and beauty this mosque has to offer, hundreds of migrant workers from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal work around the clock as housekeeping staff to keep this place pristine. Through continuous scrubbing and polishing, they make this place glitter. In return, they take home a meager pay but no glory.
Housekeeping staff wear a white robe along with a deep blue jacket that reads “HOUSE KEEPING”. All of the workers I encountered were men of South Asian origin, from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and India.
I traveled to United Arab Emirates (UAE) in December 2016 for documenting the stories of Nepali labor migrants. Photography and cinematography of migrant workers were strictly prohibited. On one occasion, I was confronted by an official as I was photographing some workers. After that incident, I had to be discreet. However, the authorities at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque were very generous in permitting photography.
Puru Shah is the founder of Madhesi Youth. For Madhesi Youth, he primarily writes about human rights issues and articles with an emphasis on data analysis & data visualization. His goal is to promote justice, equality, sustainable development, and youth empowerment in Nepal.
Connect with Puru Shah on Twitter (@digitalsubway)