Egypt celebrated the centenary of Cairo’s Museum of Islamic Art last week, on 25 October. The celebration took place in an atmosphere reminiscent of the One Thousand and One Nights, not in terms of the lavishness, extravagance, music or rejoicing, that characterised those tales, but rather because of the sense of history that surrounded us, and the spirit of the museum.
The celebrations began early in the morning, and I was extremely busy observing all the details of the grand re-opening, and preparing for the reception of intellectuals and journalists from all over the world. They were coming to attend the museum’s grand re-opening after a full renovation that required eight years of hard work. The museum itself was re-opened by President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak, in August.
During the day, I wandered around the halls of the museum. It was such an indescribable feeling, to be amongst the treasures of Islamic art and antiquities, the reflections of which could be seen on the faces of all of those who were present. The atmosphere was very spiritual and authentically Middle Eastern. To our right, there were mihrabs [semicircular niches in the wall of a mosque that indicates the qibla; that is, the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca and hence the direction that Muslims should face when praying] from different Islamic ages, as well as wonderful Islamic calligraphy, ancient doors, rostrums, carpets, chinaware and materials, all of which were the products of creative Muslim artists. These artists lived in Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan in the east, Andalusia and Morocco in the west, Anatolia in the north, and Ethiopia in the south.
Time passed quickly, with Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak arriving at the museum at 7:30 p.m. where she was received by the Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni, who is himself an artist, in addition to numerous public figures. I was delighted to see her in attendance, and I could sense how happy she was when observing the Islamic art and antiquities that she is well known to be an admirer of. Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak also expressed her interest in the museum’s redevelopment, and the manner in which the antiquities were being exhibited, and these are issues that we discussed at length. Before the end of the visit, I presented Mrs. Mubarak with a book that can be considered a masterpiece in itself, and which is worthy of the centenary celebrations of this majestic museum; this book highlights the Museum of Islamic Art’s history.
Following the visit, my friend Omar Sharif and I attended the museum’s centenary celebrations which were being held inside the Muhammad Ali Palace in al-Manyal district. The museum’s initial grand opening ceremony was held by Abbas Hilmi II [the Khedive of Egypt and Sudan from 1892 – 1914], and this took place in front of the museum’s gates, in Bab al-Khalq. This was attended by numerous social dignitaries, writers, artists, public figures and ministers.
The grand re-opening included a number of presentations, including dance and music performances produced and choreographed by Walid Aouni.
I wish that the entire world could come to visit the Islamic Art Museum in Bab al-Khalq, to see the excellence of Islamic civilization. In fact, Western civilization advanced considerably thanks to Islamic doctors, chemists, engineers, physicists, intellectuals and philosophers. Throughout this rich history, there was never any mention of the existence of terrorism in Islamic civilization which is currently being misrepresented either out of ignorance, or in order to serve other’s ulterior motives.