Jane Devlin observed each picture on display at the Australian Muslim History Gallery, located at the upper level of the newly opened Islamic Museum of Australia in Melbourne.
The young British woman, who was born and raised in Australia, would occasionally glance at the text
describing a specific picture that caught her attention.
She said the museum facilitated a positive understanding of Islam, which had been tainted with a negative image of late.
“Culturally, the museum strengthens Australia’s image as one of the most multicultural countries in the world,” Devlin says.
Another visitor, Rima Darwiche, said the museum would play an important role in challenging the prevalent stereotypes regarding Islam, which are often linked to terrorism, while in fact, Islam encourages peace.
The museum, she said, did not only teach visitors about Islam, but also provided information about Islamic art and culture as well as its contribution to the history of global civilization.
“The museum could alter the way Islam is viewed and change the negative stereotypes that have tainted it,” Darwiche says.
The Islamic Museum of Australia was officially opened on Feb. 28 this year by Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey.
The building where the museum is housed is impressive and aesthetically pleasing. The white walls are adorned with grey Arabic calligraphy quoting a message from the Koran, which translates to: “So narrate to them the stories so that upon them they may reflect.”
At the front of the building, corten steel panels envelop large sections of the walls.
Ahmed Hassan, a staff member at the museum, said the building’s architecture represented the unity between Islam and Australia.
“The white walls represents Islam, while the corten steel, which is brown, embodies Australia’s geograpy. The majority of Australia is brown, which is a common characteristic related to its remote areas and communities,” he said.
This harmony between Australia and Islam is depicted through a key element of the building’s architecture, which features various holes along its walls representing the dots that embody Aboriginal art. The dots allow sunlight to shine through the building, casting beautiful shadows.
At sunset, the ambience becomes rather romantic as the yellow light from the lamp outside the building illuminates the interior of the museum through the dots, creating an exotic setting.
“The need to establish an Islamic Museum has been recognized by many Australian Muslims. Most communities in Australia have their own museum, except the Islamic community,” Hassan said.
In fact, the museum, which took four years to design with a total construction cost of A$10 million (US$9 million), is considered an essential tool for disseminating information about Islam.
Although the museum has yet to attract many visitors, their numbers are gradually increasing. Since its grand opening, the museum has been welcoming around 100 visitors per day, comprising mostly students and those from various ethnic communities in Melbourne.
Hassan said there was a plan to extend the opening hours. Currently, the museum is open on weekdays but is closed on weekends and public holidays.
Hassan said up to now, the number of Muslims in the state of Victoria, where Melbourne is the capital, was roughly 90,000 with around 50 mosques and 10 Islamic schools.
In general, he said the Muslim population in Australia, based on the 2011 census, had reached 476,291 people, or about 2.2 percent of the total population.
Hassan said the museum’s founders — Moustafa and Maysaa Fahour, an Australian couple living in Dubai — established the museum to counter the many negative stereotypes attached to Australian Muslims.
As visitors enter the main entrance, they are greeted warmly by receptionists wearing hijab. The admission fees are A$12 for adults (A$10 dollars for those with concession cards), A$10 for students, while children under 5 can enter free of charge.
At the reception area, visitors will come across a mini-billabong, which separates the reception area and the first gallery, the Islamic Faith Gallery. The gallery exhibits Islamic tenets, including the five principles of Islam. The museum has five permanent galleries in total.
The second gallery displays the major contributions of Muslims to the development of civilization. The third gallery features Islamic works of art with different themes, from social issues to politics, created by Australian Muslim artists. The fourth gallery explores Islamic architecture; and the last gallery shows the history of Australian Muslims from the 19th to the 20th century.
Each gallery has its own unique characteristics. For example, the second gallery, which is located at the ground floor, features interactive displays that allow visitors to gain an in-depth understanding of the history of Islamic civilization and how it has influenced certain aspects of civilization that have become common all over the world.
For example, the symbol of zero is derived from the Arabic word sifr, which cannot be found in Roman numerals, while Greek mathematicians did not even consider zero to be a number.
Another contribution is the Al Karauoine University located in Fes, Morocco, which is regarded as the oldest university in the world. History also suggests the modern way of consuming coffee as a beverage, was initiated in the Islamic world. Pasqua Rosee, a trader from Turkey, opened a coffee shop in London in 1650.
The fourth gallery reveals the interaction between Muslims and indigenous Australians, the Aborigines. In 1700s, Muslim fishermen from Makassar in South Sulawesi traded with Aborigines. The evidence of this cultural interaction can be seen through the language and art of Aborigines living in Northern Australia.
In the 19th century immigrants from Pakistan, India and Afghanistan started to settle in Australia. These settlers were often referred to as “Afghan” cameleers, due to the fact they brought camels from abroad to carry supplies and as a means of travel through the Australian desert.
At the museum, visitors can just relax and enjoy the food and drinks provided by a cafe located near the car park. The owner of the cafe is Samira El Khafir, a last year Master Chef Australia finalist.
The museum does not exclusively provide information that is aimed at clearing up misunderstandings and negative stereotypes about Islam. The museum’s main mission is to increase social harmony across its multicultural landscape.
The Jakarta Post
Mon, March 24 2014