Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization
The first museum of its kind in the UAE and stands as a cultural landmark of importance for both the Islamic faith and the vast history of the Islamic era
Sitting opposite a grimy, bustling dockyard on Majarrah Waterfront is the splendorous Sharjah Museum for Islamic Civilization with its golden gilded dome that catches the eye, glistening in the sunlight. Its spacious vaults cover huge swathes of Islamic history, including science, technology and design. It also includes periodic exhibitions from some of history’s greatest calligraphic and geometric artists such as the work of 19th century British architect Owen Jones. Its zodiac-decorated rooftop highlights the close relationship between the religion and science and once inside, the cool and airy corridors are a welcome relief from the dusty, trafficladen roads.
On any given day a steady flow of visitors stream into the complex and explore the exhibits. On the ground floor a visual storyboard accompanied by ancient pieces such as sun dials and early watches reveal the advances in science and technology that can be attributed to the Islamic era, and there is also a simple and informative introduction to the pillars of the faith. The middle floor consists of four galleries exhibiting artifacts such as weapons, ceramics, textiles and clothing from many Islamic countries, representing all periods of Islamic history from its beginnings in the Abbasid and Umayyad eras to the Ottoman and Mamluk eras with distinctive features from each period. On the top floor is a much-lauded rest area with a snack bar, where the visitor can appreciate its azure dome.
Mohammed Somjay, an Indian expatriate who lives in Abu Dhabi, is visiting the museum while visiting relatives in Sharjah. ‘I bring my children here because I want to show them the rich Islamic history,’ he says. ‘They learn a lot about it at school but this is something different, something more interactive. Also it is a nice place to bring the family.’
Alongside a multitude of recognitions from international organisations, including being named as UNESCO’s cultural capital of the Arab World in 1998, Sharjah now has 16 museums – more than the rest of the emirates put together. The Museum of Islamic Civilization is a veritable treasure trove, housing more than 5,000 artefacts.
Manal Ataya, the director of the Sharjah Museums Department said at a recent event that: ‘The role of museums in the Arab world has recently become an ever more important topic of discussion, and more so, as they offer kaleidoscopic opportunities for education, knowledge creation and selfdevelopment for individuals, communities and societies.’ Of all the 16 institutions, the Museum of Islamic Civilization is one of the largest and most well established. In the 1970s it was reserved for the fruit and vegetable market but then it underwent renovation and was reopened in 2008 by His Highness Dr Sultan bin Mohammad Al Qasimi to mark a new era in the emirate’s cultural contribution to the UAE. Entry to the museum is only five dirhams but if you go on Saturday, entry is free.
Outside of the museum there is a rugged charm that is hard to find in other parts of the Gulf. Close by is the extremely well populated art museum and opposite to the offices of Sharjah Art Foundation (home to the country’s only biennale) the building can be said to be the beating heart of the city.
A little further along the Corniche is the Central Souq. Also know as the Blue Souq owing to the blue-hued tile shell, this shopping centre is a warren of stalls selling jewellery, tailor-made suits and souvenirs and is a place many residents go to get the best deals on household items, clothing and gold.