Sharjah Museum, impressive showcase of Islamic art
SHARJAH - With thousands of historical artefacts from all over the Islamic world, the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation offers visitors a unique exposure to timeless achievements of Islamic life and its universality.
Situated in the historical heart of Sharjah on the Majarrah waterfront, the museum is housed in what was once a traditional Middle Eastern souk. It was initially in the city’s Heritage Area when it opened in 1996 under the name Sharjah Islamic Museum until it was relocated in 2008.
One cannot miss the grandeur of the building with its arched ceiling and prominent 24-carat gold dome standing out from afar.
Curator Entisar al-Obaidli said the museum has more than 5,000 artefacts, many of which are rare. The collection is arranged according to themes and spread over seven galleries showcasing aspects of Islamic faith, science, discoveries, culture and Islamic art.
Galleries on the ground floor include the Abu Bakr Gallery of Islamic Faith, the Ibn Al-Haytham Gallery of Science and Technology and the Al Majarrah Temporary Exhibition Gallery along with the Islamic Coins Display in the atrium outside.
The museum has a large and important collection of early Islamic coins, including a large number of Umayyad and Abbasid dinars and dirhams.
On the first floor are the four galleries on Islamic art arranged according to time from the earliest period up to the 20th century.
The Abu Bakr Gallery of Islamic Faith presents an introduction to Islam and the Quran. The exhibits are arranged to explain the five pillars of Islam and provides a fascinating account of the haj.
Outstanding artefacts include sections from the Kiswah, which covers the Kaaba in Mecca, rare historical Quran manuscripts as well as models, photographs, presentations and important facts about mosque architecture from around the world.
The Ibn Al-Haytham Gallery of Science and Technology Gallery showcases the achievements of Islamic science and the contributions of Islamic scholars to world civilisation.
Sophisticated 3D models, audiovisuals and extensive information panels chart some of the most outstanding discoveries, inventions and theories developed by Islamic scholars in such fields as astronomy, medicine, geography, architecture, mathematics, chemistry, military technology, marine navigation and engineering.
In the Islamic Art Gallery 1, a wide range of artefacts, including pottery, metalwork, woodcarving, manuscripts and textiles made in the Islamic world from the seventh century through the 13th century can be seen.
The Islamic Art Gallery 2 displays important Islamic artworks dating from the 13th-19th centuries. Among the objects displayed are some that date to the days following the Mongol invasion of the eastern Islamic world in the 13th century. The gallery presents a wide selection of fascinating objects from Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal lands.
It was also a period of increasing global trade, economic growth and fruitful, creative interaction between artistic, cultural and religious communities.
The Islamic Art Galleries 3-4 are devoted to showcasing Islamic arts, crafts and weapons used in the 19th and 20th centuries.
During this period the region flourished economically and attracted interest from the Europeans, which promoted cultural and artistic exchange and the increasing influx of European ideas and products.
Obaidli pointed out some of the prominent items such as the sitara, curtain for the door of the Kaaba in Mecca. It is made of black silk satin, embroidered with gold and silver threads and features verses from the Quran, displayed in a traditional system of panels, circles and borders.
This curtain, also known as “Al Burda” or “Al Burqu’a” is the most ornamented part of the Kiswah hanging, which covers the Kaaba.
In the Ibn al Haytham Gallery of Science and Technology Astrolabes, the curator highlighted the different models of astrolabes, perhaps the most important astronomical instrument developed by Islamic scientist scholars from 200-1400. Based on Hellenistic prototypes, it was perfected in the Islamic world and became the most commonly used device in astronomy both there and later in Europe. It was used to determine the time during the day or night, to measure latitudes, to observe the positions of the stars and to locate desired destinations.
A wonderful artefact on the first floor in the Islamic Art Gallery is the Lion or Lynx Censer in bronze from Khorasan, eastern Iran during the 11th-12th centuries, reflecting a period of wealth and opulence.
“Twice a year, we organise exhibitions of international standing in collaboration with other museums and institutions across the world like the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia and the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin,” said Obaidli.