The Museum of Islamic Art

Muslim Matters

The Museum of Islamic Art

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

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In an explosion of fireworks, which lit up the sky in a burst of fiery glitter, Qatar cut the ribbon on the world’s largest Islamic museum located right in the heart of the capitol Doha. Details of the museum, which cost an estimated $300 million dollars to construct, have been a closely guarded secret that has fueled intense anticipation in the art world for months. The opening ceremony, this past Saturday, was a red carpet event with the Emir of Qatar and 1,000 guests, including both Arab and Hollywood celebrities as well as dignitaries from all over the World.

In a press conference at the inaugural event, Her Highness the Chairperson of Qatar Museums Authority Board of Trustees Sheikha al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani said, “It is our aim to exhibit human creative and artistic genius to provide the educational keys to understanding the past, and incentives upon which to reflect and create the future.” The tiny kingdom has long tried to break away from the other Gulf States to become the region’s primary hub for International investments, educational opportunities and as a global tourist destination. The Museum of Islamic Art is set to illuminate Qatar as one of the primary art destinations in the Gulf.

The museum was built by Chinese-American architect Ieoh Ming Pei, who is also the world-renowned architect who built the Louvre pyramid in Paris. It is situated on a manmade island that reaches out into the water with the sprawling structure constructed over 382,000 square feet. The design of the structure mirrors the Ahmad ibn Tulun mosque in Egypt, however it remains futuristically modern at the same time in a seamless balance and fluidity of lines.

The art collection of the museum includes 4,500 objects that date from the 8th-19th centuries from all over the Muslim world including countries that haven been inspired by Islamic art as a part of their own ancestry, such as Spain and India. The objects cross all mediums of artwork including ceramics, jewelry, woodworking, textiles, calligraphy, portraits and ancient books. However, the objects will be rotated carefully to ensure that only 850 are available for viewing at a time.

The Qatari Royal family has also been aggressively purchasing influential pieces of art to contribute to the museum over the past few years. The most recent acquisition includes an abstract painting by Mark Rothko, which was purchased in 2007 for more than $72 million. Other notable works of art contained within the museum includes the jade pendant that was worn by the lovelorn architect of the ‘Taj Mahal’, Shah Jahan and a gigantic page from an enormous Holy Quran that was made as a gift for the Emperor Timur in the 15th century. 

The Museum of Islamic Art is designed more as a cultural center than as a museum. It features an impressive educational wing complete with a library, bookstore and study area. It also houses a 5-star restaurant, café and gift shop. It is also meant to remain in a continuous state of motion as it reaches out to other museums across the world to share knowledge and also present a favorable view of the Islamic faith. Inspired by the colossal project, Ieoh Ming Pei said at the inaugural event, “I am only an architect, but this building is very special to me. It helped me learn something about another world, another religion and another culture.”

Workshops and forums have already been scheduled, well into the New Year, with intellectuals from all over the World topping the invitee list.


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