Saturday, November 22, 2008

Qatar Opens World's First Museum of Islamic Art

Qatar, the world's wealthiest country on a per-capita basis, according to the IMF, just opened the first Museum of Islamic Art yesterday in a move that will hopefully bring more attention to the Gulf nation.  The same architect who is responsible for the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, the Bank of China Tower, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Ohio designed the $300 million structure.  

Al Jazeera interviewed one of the museum's founders, Sheikh Hassan Al Thani.  (The full interview can be found here.)

Al Jazeera: What is the significance of creating a museum of Islamic art?

Al Thani: Islamic history comprises one of the most important stages of human development and civilisation. Usually, civilisations are evaluated by their artistic production and we wanted to display to the world the uniqueness and finesse of arts and crafts that were produced by Islamic civilisation.

Islamic arts were produced in regions which covered two-thirds of the ancient world stretching from Indonesia to Morocco and Mauritania, in addition to countries that had been under Islamic rule or contained Islamic communities like Spain and China and even southern Italy.

The museum will exhibit a millennium of Islamic art - those which were produced from around the time that Islam took root in the 7th century to the 18th century. We think this stage is very important in human history.


What distinguishes this museum from others which also exhibit Islamic art?

What distinguishes us is that we are focused. We are not folkloric; we are not a museum which deals with what people used in their daily lives, what they wore, what they ate and so on.

We are dedicated to art, and Islamic arts in specific; we are hoping to reveal to the world the achievements and contributions of Islam to world civilisations and how this helped the Muslims achieve the pinnacle of their scientific and artistic glory.

Let me offer you one small example of how Islamic arts and sciences influenced the development of human history and innovation.

Until the 15th century, the Vatican used to embroider the Papal robes with Arabic letters.

During the middle ages, china plates in Europe were found to have been inscribed with Islamic motifs, specifically calligraphy of the words Mohammed (in reference to the prophet of Islam) and Allah.

Of course there is no problem with calligraphy of the word Allah, because Europe and the Arab world worship one God, but it is nonetheless astounding to discover that such Islamic patterns could be found on non-Muslim European items.

These specific issues are not properly displayed anywhere else other than the Museum of Islamic arts in Qatar.

The Museum of Islamic Arts is also a research centre with a magnificent library that contains references in history and many other fields. Islamic authoritative texts are also available for researchers who seek deeper interpretations of Islamic law and religious instruction.      

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