From a young age, I was always fascinated with history and I especially loved hearing stories about perished nations. That strange blend of awe and terror never leaves you; in fact I think I will carry it to the grave. Those people leading lives not too different from ours, people who formed some of the greatest civilisations in history only to cease in existence is haunting. Their annihilation serves time and time again as reminders that no matter how mighty a king or his empire, no one escapes death.

Growing up in the early 90’s, we never had access to information the way we do today. Internet didn’t exist, and even Islamic bookshops are a recent product so books of knowledge weren’t readily available. But I remember, my siblings and I would always sit around and share whatever we knew. We used to talk about the end of times- all the time. We learnt the final signs off by heart and we believed those awful days were still a very long way away yet.

But it is not so. As I write this, a massacre is taking place in Syria. An unreported civil war in Yemen. A genocide on stateless Rohingyas. Kashmir still burns, a forgotten Palestine still cries for help. And I’m reminded of them every time I visit, or will visit the gem that is the Museum of Islamic Art.

 

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Built on water: view of the museum from the boat.
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Boat ride from Al Corniche to West Bay

 

There are both permanent and seasonal exhibitions: many include art from the Islamic Empire of the past, and relics are from a vast range of countries.

The hushed reverence and exquisite beauty of displays makes your heart swell with pride, only to deflate again when you recall the present reality. It is human nature to believe we are the most advanced race, to view time as this linear concept where all our predecessors were somehow less advanced and less ‘modern’. But just taking one look at the exhibitions forces you to rethink everything. Muslims of the past made so many advancements during their time, the frightening truth is that we have actually digressed.

Below are some images of my favourite pieces in which I found pain as well as hope and inspiration.

Special Exhibition: China

The silk road amazes me…

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Terracotta army
silk-road
Map of the silk road

Ottoman Empire

An age of medical and scientific discoveries…

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Full armour for horse and soldier, Turkey 1400-1500
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Quran, pigments and gold on paper. Egpyt, 1300’s
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Water-jar stand, Egypt or Iraq 1100-1200’s

Mughul India

Opulence.

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Wall tapestries, portraits from books and gem studded khanjars (daggers) inscribed with the name of Shah Jahan, 1600’s

Iran

Hubby: If you were allowed to have any piece from this museum, which would it be?
Me: That’s easy- the Laila Majnun carpet. You?
Hubby: The Shahnameh.

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Shahnameh, 991 AH (1583 AD)
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Laila Majnun silk carpet, Iran,  1500-1600s

 

As children, when all our talk of the final days would dwindle to a halt, someone would signal the end of the conversation with the line: “And one day it will be our turn, they will come for us too…”

The way the world is going, I don’t doubt it.

We can’t remain complacent, we can’t ignore what’s happening. No positive result can come of our collective, cowardly silence. I fear one day all that will be left of Syria, of Asia, of Muslims all over the world are relics like these, in museums for visitors to gaze on.

What difference will there be in us, and those perished nations who are remembered briefly in art and literature…

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

[Ozymandias, Shelley]

 

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