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The Poor Ponder at Saleh’s Mosque
  Written By: Abdul Rahim Al-Showthabi (YEMEN POST STAFF)
  Article Date:
January 26, 2009



“I scratch my head in surprise when I see Al-Saleh Mosque,” said 42 year-old farmer Ali Najee Thabet.

The opening of the giant new mosque named after Yemen's president 2 months ago has confused the poor throughout the country, mainly when they hear it cost a surprising $60 million, a massive amount in a country where poor people are struggling to survive.

"We need hospitals and schools, said 33 year old Thabet Gaid Obad a stone laborer. Unfortunately, there is no help to provide essential drugs to poor hospitalized people in public hospitals throughout the country. Poor patients are in urgent need of practical support as hospitals lack necessary drugs as well as basic equipment such as clean needles and gloves, causing obvious frustration for patients and staff alike.

Sadly, patients must wait a long time to be seen in emergency rooms. Once diagnosed, they are immediately sent out to buy their own drugs from pharmacies. Many patients cannot buy medicines and simply do not return, going home with the wounds they came with and stay untreated.

The house of worship (mosque) is surrounded by expensive gardens and can fit over 40,000 people. The mosque seems to represent an enduring wish by Yemen's president to be ever-present. Already, hospitals, schools and stadiums around the country bear his name.

The United Nation World Food Program (WFP) Representative and Country Director Mohamed El-Kohen revealed that WFP warns of new horror times across the globe for poor people in Yemen, mainly because of the price hikes, hinting that hunger and food shortage are the way to political instability, especially in a country which many of its population are wracked by poverty.

Additionally, WFP reported that Yemen is the second poorest Arab state, just next to Somalia. Yemen's current population is estimated over 22 million and it has the highest birth mortality rate in the world with an average of nearly 7 children per woman.

Precautions are also being taken to protect Saleh Mosque, and it's the only one in the country where worshippers are searched by police.

Economic experts believe the mosque came in the wrong time as there is no strategic plan for the development of Yemen's economy as Yemen is too dependent on oil exports - even though the government reveals that oil production could decrease by 50 percent in the current year. 

Those who pass by the mosque will surely look up to see its six very tall minarets, four of which soar 160m into the sky. The mosque's design follows a unique Yemeni style of architecture, with wooden roofs and 15 wooden gates, each 23m high and carved with copper patterns. Inside, a large crystal chandelier lights up the main prayer area. The mosque has three floors, with libraries and 25 classrooms.

When talking with many locals, they said that Yemen doesn't need such a luxurious mosque and stressed that they need industrial projects to rescue the country from poverty, unemployment and diseases. However, few people went with their thoughts that the mosque represents the country's Islamic civilization.

Deputy for Religious Affairs at Al-Saleh mosque Hassan Al-Sheikh pointed out that Al-Saleh Mosque is a forum for researchers and it will be the school in which people are to learn the true guidance of Islam. 

Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Mosque and renowned Egyptian religious scholar, Mohammed Sayed Tantawi said that Al-Saleh's mosque is to be the mosque in which leniency, mercy, and tolerance for others will be taught. He also said that it aims to spread Islamic values which the Holy Qur'an calls for.

The mosque combines traditional Islamic elements of domes, minarets, arches, carved marble, and bands of incised and gold-leaf calligraphy, and blends it uniquely with Yemeni architectural aspects.

Inside the main hall, which can hold up to 13,000 worshippers, one can watch the the carved doors made of Burmese teak, the coffered inlaid ceiling is made of American oak, and the carpet which was woven in Turkey is made of New Zealand lamb’s wool. An additional 31,000 worshippers can be accommodated outside, while a large women’s prayer hall is also available.

Seeing the large and occasionally violent crowds standing in line for hours in an effort to buy cheap wheat in front of governmental institutions, is an indicator of the financial woes facing common people in Yemen. It also provides a sense of knowledge on how the poor in Yemen live.

Yemen is one of the least-developed counties in the world, ranking 98 out of 177 countries on the UN 2008 Human Developing Index. Over 40 percent of the population lives on less than 1 USD per a day. Food insecurity is a major problem and more than 50 percent of the population suffers from moderate hunger. Similarly, over 40 percent of children under five are malnourished.