The Mosque of Hassan II

View of Hassan II Mosque from the outdoor plaza.
The Mosque of Hassan II in Casablanca, Morocco is one of the world's largest. Inside it accommodates 25,000 worshippers. Add to that 80,000 in its enormous plaza and you have a religious structure capable of processing 105,000 believers at a go. The dimensions are gargantuan. The minaret is as high as the prayer hall is long, 200 meters. The mosque is half as wide as it is long, 100 meters. It sends a laser beam 18.5 miles in the direction of Mecca. Notre Dame or St. Peters would fit comfortably inside, though Ankhor Wat dwarfs all three. I suppose churches are like sailboats. No matter how big yours is, there is always one bigger. Maybe not. Saudi Arabia’s Al-Masjid an-Nabawi can accommodate a million worshippers!

Two painted cedar mezzanines capable of holding 5,000 women hang over either side of the prayer hall floor. Here, behind carved screens, the women are hidden from the sight of the men because they would otherwise be a distraction. Apparently, the relationship is asymmetric. The stairway to the women’s mezzanine is, in fact, an escalator, a consolation prize for not being able to mingle with the men.

Prayer Hall of Hassan II Mosque

The building is the kind of place that causes one to think in statistical terms. The building rests on two hundred pillars, each 60 meters deep. The roof weighs 1100 tons. It opens with the aid of electric motors. The King's door through which the king enters once a year weighs 65 tons and has to be opened, like the roof, with the help of motors. The chandeliers weigh 10 tons, except for the biggest of them all. It is twice as heavy. To either side of the sconces on the walls are stucco columns and artfully hidden in the bases of these columns are 36 speakers. So it goes.

The motif of the church is a verse from the Koran which says, in effect, that all life comes from water. Two thirds of the mosque's foundation straddles water. Beneath the main floor one can look down into an enormous ablution room, this one for males. Women, of course, have separate facilities. The ablution room is intended for ritual cleansing, of the mouth, the nose, the face, the hair, three times with fresh water before prayer.

Communal Bath for Men

The columns in the ablution room are made of a combination of sand, limestone, clay, black soap and egg yolk. The amalgam is very porous and absorbs the humidity produced by the cleansing fountains.

Perhaps the most remarkable statistic of all is that this mosque, opened first in 1993, took only 7 years to build and was the work of 6,000 Moroccan carvers, zellij (tile) designers and mosaic makers. Equally surprising is that the architect was not a Moroccan but a Frenchman, Michelle Pinseau.

It has often been remarked that belief in God and therefore the need for God's houses is a universal. Some have even taken this to be an argument in favor of the existence of God. Why would every society end up with God if there weren't something to it?  I have a different view. What is universal is poverty. There is always an enormous difference between the haves and the have-nots. The way in which the former control the latter is to provide the have-nots with a place where they can be wealthy, if only for a few hours.