For those looking for a photographic experience, a religious pilgrimage or to wonder at human ingenuity, the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca is your must-visit destination. It was designed by an Frenchman using mostly Italian granite, so you know its quality.
It’s the largest mosque in Morocco and the seventh largest in the world (depending on who you ask). At its busiest during Ramadan, it can hold 20,000 worshipers inside and 80,000 outside. That’s Madison Square Garden capacity with an AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX outside area. A like a lot of NFL stadiums in America, it has a retractable roof.
The distinction of the Hassan II Mosque, which was finished in 1993 at a cost of $800 million, is that visitors of all faiths are welcome to take a guided tour. The noon hour, during prayer-service, is the only time it’s closed to non-Muslim. That’s when the regular worshipers come to pray. I asked what the average day attendance is like. It’s about 900, so I think they can spread out. I wouldn’t mind seeing the mosque at full capacity, but I guess I have to do a Google image search.
During the tour, there were lot of “wow” facts that impressed me. First off, the building has heated floors. I didn’t think it was necessary but I guess it does it chilly in Casablanca. Nobody wants to pray on a cold floor.
The mosques I’ve visited in Istanbul (Blue and Süleymaniye) had bathing facilities outside and the worship areas for women in the back of the room. At Hassan II, the bathing and spa facilities are downstairs and are of equal capacity and design between male and females. Also, the women pray above the men in the main hall as suppose to the back.
Walking through the main hall is a wonder. It’s so vast, open and empty that you feel like you have the whole place to yourself. As you can see in these photos, the design is symmetric and modern without feeling that it’s ignoring centuries of Moroccan design.
Another distinction of the mosque is its location right on the Atlantic Ocean with the world’s tallest minaret dominating your sight-line. It’s also separated from the urban congestion of Casablanca’s city center, which makes your visit peaceful and free of traffic. All you hear is bird’s chirping, cats meowing and an ocean breeze.
To visit, just show up 15-20 minutes before the hour in the visitors’ hall downstairs to book an English-language tour. You will be required to remove your shoes, which is perfectly fine because the floors are impeccability clean.
As for the dress code, I kept on reading that shorts and sleeveless shirts are not permitted. In my tour group, there was a dude in short and a chick in a tank-top. Then the next group after us, there was a fat guy in jean shorts and a Steelers Ben Roethlisberger jersey. “Yup, going to the mosque in my Sunday’s best. GO STEELERS!!!!” Just be respectful for once, tourists. Wear some damn pants.
To get a little political, the anti-Muslim rhetoric pervading American society is disturbing. Those close-minded people who think such things are obviously not travelers and have never visited countries like Turkey or Morocco. The sad thing, I think nothing we can do can change their minds. Well, guess what racists. I visited a mosque and didn’t get targeted for murder. I also didn’t see anybody plotting against the West. Nobody tried to push me to extremism. So “(insert curse word) you” to those racists who equate Muslims with terrorism. How’s that for being politically incorrect?