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Around the Islamic world in two-and-a-half hours

Lily B. Libo-on (About Sharjah) / 28 January 2012

A traditional building long known in the Sharjah architectural landscape as Souq Al Majarrah now boasts of more than 5,000 exquisite Islamic artifacts from all over the Islamic world, arranged according to the themes in seven spacious galleries and display areas.

Known as the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation since 2008, it displays the collection of His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah.

Aisha Rashed Deemas, curator at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation, told Khaleej Times that it is difficult to select the top five exhibits in a collection of 5,000, as there could be at least 50 top unique, rare and important displays in the museum.

On touring the museum in two-and-a-half hours, visitors will find priceless exhibits such as the curtain for the door of the Holy Kaaba in Makkah Al Mukarramah, Saudi Arabia dated after 1985; lampas silk and gold tunic from Iran or Central Asia dated 13th-14the century AD; enameled jewellery from Jaipur in India, 18th-19th century; gilt copper candlestick, from Ottoman Turkey, 15th-16th century; and lustre plate with leaping quadruped, from either Iraq or possibly Egypt, 9th-10the century.

Several areas of the museum are ready to receive the Islamic technology models described in the book of Islamic scientist Al-Jazari dated 12 the century, and currently being made at the Islamic University in Frankfurt, Germany by Prof Dr Fuoad Sizgin. Hundreds of these models are currently on display at the Islamic Technology Gallery and Islamic Service Gallery. But, more are coming.

“Dr Shaikh Sultan travelled to Frankfurt and, upon seeing the models, ordered for copies to be brought to Sharjah,” the tour official at the museum said.

On displays are the priceless Jantar Mantar Observatory of astronomer and instrument maker Muhammed ibn Ahmad Al Hazimi around 1061 AD described in “The Manufacture of a Globe” and centuries-old astrolabe reconstructed by Abd Al Rahman ibn Sinan Al Ba’lbakki dated 1611 AD.

Invented by mathematician Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Al Hussein Al Khazin in the second half of the 10th century, the astrolabe works out the position of the planets, measures altitude of the stars and planets and shows a map of the heavens to show how the night sky will look at any given time, and determines prayer time, especially during Ramadan.

More than 2,500 pieces of the gold dinars and silver dirhams, which Islamic countries used as currencies in the past, can be found in the Coin Gallery. The oldest of these collections dates back to 697 AD and the second set was dated 698 AD.

A model of the black stone, which forms part of the Holy Ka’aba of 20th century gifted to Shaikh Sultan by Sultan ibn Abdulaziz, is also part of the huge Islamic collections.  In Islam, the black stone, especially that part of the Ka’aba where pilgrims touch during Haj to start their “Tawaf” or going around the Ka’aba seven times, is believed to have been received by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) from the Sapphires of Paradise.

Facsimiles of the first copy of the Holy Quran in Islam, the original of which was presented to Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II in 1811 AD by Ottoman Governor of Egypt Mehmet Ali and of the largest Ottoman Quran commissioned by the Ottoman Sultan Subyman the Magnificent in 16th century; models of centuries-old mosques, hospitals and universities in Edirne and Istanbul (both in Turkey), Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia; Islamic arts; calligraphies; and other Islamic artifacts from across the world fill the museum.

The first and the only one of its kind in the UAE, the Sharjah Museum of Islamic  Civilisation focuses entirely on the universal achievements and contributions of Islamic civilisation. Deemas said that prior to the opening of the new museum in 2008, a smaller museum housed in one of the traditional houses in the Sharjah Heritage Area and displaying Islamic art, numismatics and religious paraphernalia from the Ruler’s collections, was opened as the ‘Islamic Museum’ in 1996. “As the collection continued to grow, it became necessary not only to relocate to another building but to rethink the collections display and interpretation.”

The number of museum visitors increased by about 30 per cent in 2011 the previous year, Deemas said. “Because the museum has not yet completed its first five years, it is difficult to measure a trend; we will be able to do this after our fifth year. However, for now, we are able to say that we do have an increase in visitor numbers.” Locals, residents, GCC tourists, western tourists, and students of schools and universities troop into the museum all year round.

Till 2014, the museum will focus on the recognition of Sharjah’s concerted efforts to promote knowledge and appreciation of Islamic civilisation, as the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has nominated Sharjah as the capital of Islamic Culture for the year 2014. “Specific recognition is extended to the personal involvement of Shaikh Sultan in preserving and promoting all aspects of Islamic art and culture at the local, national, regional and international levels.”

She said that an important message conveyed through the museum’s activities and events is the fact that the achievements and contributions of the Islamic world and Muslims worldwide continue even today. “Contemporary issues are regularly explored in both permanent and temporary exhibitions.”

One of the recent shows featured the work of American Muslim photojournalist Sadaf Syed, who set out to travel across the US with her two young children and their double strollers, trekking state to state, going through airport scanners and “random checking,” to photograph and capture the stories of covered women across the country. The result was a limited edition of a stunning photo documentary book, ‘iCOVER: A Day in the Life of a Muslim-American COVERed Girl’. The museum displayed a selection of her photos during November 2011-January 2012.

Educational and community programmes, which the museum offer for the public, are part of the Education and Interpretation department of the Sharjah Museums Department. Programmes for schools are designed specifically to cater to the needs of the classroom and are the result of an extensive in-depth research study of the public and private school curricula in Sharjah.

Adult programmes also take place once a month at the museum aimed to engage the museum’s adult audiences in discussions about different aspects of the history of Islamic civilisation or topics that are important to Muslims today.


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