How to understand Muslims better through arts and culture. Top tips from world renowned organisations
At the world renowned British Museum, an interesting development is taking place in the quest to better get to know Muslims as people. Today the exhibition “Hajj: Journey to The Heart of Islam” is opening. The British Museum believes it is the first exhibition ever of its kind, and is designed to illuminate the Muslim experience of pilgrimage. The aim is to bring to life what it actually feels like to be Muslim.
The three sections of the exhibition – Mecca, the routes to hajj, and experiences of contemporary and historical pilgrimages – give a sense of the anticipation, the journey and the arrival of the Muslim pilgrim. Paintings showing pilgrims departing from their home town give a sense of the community’s investment in pilgrims. Photographs of throngs of pilgrims in recent times give a sense of the enormous sea of people that can feel at once overwhelming and surprisingly intimate for those participating in the hajj. The artistic contributions which see interpretations of the hajj give visitors a flavour of what hajj means to Muslims and how it feels.
In addition, the project is collecting an archive of Muslims telling their own stories about their own pilgrimage experience. It’s an interesting insight and a little dip into the collection brings Muslims to life.
There is an increasing appetite to use arts and culture to better get to know Muslims, so there can be deeper engagement through insights and understanding. The British Museum is not alone in using arts and culture as a means to cultivate this understanding.
Later this year, the Louvre in Paris will open its Arts of Islam galleries. Its roof is designed to look like a floating sheet of silk, taking as its reference the Islamic headscarf. The Louvre’s director says that the museum is about to put on show “collections that have been largely neglected for 25 years.” The rising interest in getting to know Muslims and the Muslim world better must surely be one of the catalysts for the current developments.
Last year, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art re-opened its Islamic Art galleries which had been closed for almost eight years. Now on display is a significantly enhanced collection of 1200 items. Its curator describes how Islamic arts located in the West can serve the goal of lifting the veil on the meaning that Islam brings to a vast global population. “Islam is not a single lens through which we view and interpret the art,” said Navina Najat Haidar, curator and coordinator in the Met Museum’s department of Islamic art. “Rather, it’s an inverted lens that reveals great diversity.”
The objective of gaining deeper insights into what informs and motivates Muslims is an endeavour that we feel will make a valuable contribution towards getting to know Muslims better.