Religious places in Middle East
Bahrain largest mosque is Al-Fatih Mosque. It was built in 1984 and can hold about 7000 worshipers at a time. It's possible to visit the mosque as a none-muslim. A guide will be provided free of charge and they will proudly point out that every bit of the mosque come from somewhere else in the world. The carpet from Ireland, the marble from Italy, the massive chandelier from Austria, the glass lamps from France, the wood for the pulpit (minbar) from India, and so on. It's a great way to get a introduction to Islam, if you don't much about it.
The Yazidi are followers of a little known faith with ties to Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Paganism. For the 500,000 or so practitioners, the village of Lalish is their holy land. With a number of shrines, including the tomb of the religion's founder, Lalish makes for an interesting trip when in Iraqi Kurdistan. The people are friendly and inviting, completely open to outsiders visiting their holy village. There is no public transport to the town or tourist facilities in the area, so it can only be visited as a day trip. But the combination of the mystical, the unknown and the unique make it worth the effort.
Irregardless of your religious leanings, one cannot discount the significance of the birthplace of Jesus. Tucked away in the back alleyways of Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity was built on the place where Jesus of Nazareth was born in a manager over 2,000 years ago. Palestine's first, and so far only, UNESCO listed site, the church is said to be the oldest continually operating church in the world. Lacking in the grandeur if compared to the Vatican or similar structures, the Church still sees its fair share of visitors. Sneaking in between the seemingly endless stream of tour buses is half the challenge but worth it for a moment at one of the most important spots in Western culture.
Mosaic was, and is, a big thing in Jordan, and St. George church is one of the reasons. The church itself is fairly new (19th-century) Greek Orthodow, but it is build over an old Byzantine church which floor was decorated in AD 560 with a large and detailed mosaic map over all biblical sites in the Middle East. During normal service the map is covered by a carpet but at visitor time the map is revealed. And we must admit that it is probably the most exciting mosaic around.
Do like Moses, and several Popes, go to Mount Nebo and take in the panoramic view over the Promised Land. Moses himself was forbidden to enter the land and it's believed that this was his final resting place. Today you can drive all the way up (not that high, 817m) and when finished with the fairly nice view which also includes the Dead Sea and the valley of River Jordan, you can have a look at the ruins from an ancient monastery and the Moses Memorial Church.
Kuwait's Grand Mosque is really grand and marvelous. It opened in 1986 and can hold about 10.000 men and women in the main prayer hall. From the outside, the mosque looks very modest and modern, but the inside is - contrary to many other mosques - an extravaganza of Islamic design in dark blue and gold. It possible for none-muslime to visit the mosque, but you need to book a tour (free of charge). The guide will show you around, even into the Emir's private room, which is particularly finely ornamented with both Andalusian (west) and Persian (east) mosaics. Apparently the Emir didn't like the original version, so they had to redo the whole room.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, or in Persian Qabus Azam Mosque, is a new mosque built by, well, Sultan Qaboos (the sultan of Oman) in 1995. It is an impressive piece of modern Arabic architecture with many fine details. Take for example the Persian rug inside. It measures 60 x 70 metres, making it the world's second largest carpet (it was the largest when it was made). Non-Muslims are welcome (at certain hours), but can only walk on the blue "non-Muslim" carpet.
Dramatically located high on an outcrop lies the Monastery of Mar Musa. With its back to the protective mountains and with grand views over the dry empty plain below, it's a place of serenity. In the early 1980s, the abandoned monastery got resurrected with the help of father Paolo, a very friendly and charismatic priest from Italy, who still runs the monastery along with a handful of Syrians and international disciples. Travellers are welcome no matter how long they stay, though a day visit will hardly make any sense. Stay rather for a few nights to experience the place and atmosphere - and relax, it's not as New Age as it sounds. Visitors are expected to join in on the daily tasks and the stay as well as the food is free but a donation will be appreciated.
Yemen has long been a place of Islamic scholarly learning. And perhaps no place better exemplifies this than the dusty town of Zabid. With some disproportionate 80 mosques for the tiny town, it must certainly be in the running for most religious buildings per capita. Even today, there are several medressas attracting religious student from around the world. But for the average traveller, it is the old world markets, winding streets and magnificent carved brick walls that will leave you amazed. Sadly, the town is in danger of losing it's UNESCO listing due to "40% of its original houses have been replaced by concrete buildings". It is with great hope that the world will not lose this historic gem.