KUALA LUMPUR: Museums don’t attract much public attention nowadays, with most Malaysians expecting them to be old, unattractive structures with dusty, uninteresting exhibits that have seen better days.
However, there are some museums that are anything but boring, and are in fact nothing less than world-class bastions of history and culture.
The Islamic Arts Museum, located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, is evidence of this. Despite being opened back in 1998, it’s still very much a modern, state-of-the-art facility.
Located just opposite the National Mosque and a stone’s throw away from the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station, the museum appears deceivingly small.
However, this museum is home to some 12,000 artefacts not only from Malaysia and the surrounding region but also from all over the Islamic world.
Most of these artefacts are on display courtesy of the Albukhary Foundation which also is responsible for the daily operations of this non-profit institution.
Not to mention, these exhibits also contain information presented both in Bahasa Malaysia and English, so no one is left in the dark about its historical importance.
With how hot and stifling Malaysian afternoons can be, visitors can find some respite from the heat in the museum, which is bright, cool and strangely inviting.
Locals are charged a reasonable RM14, with seniors, students and adolescents paying half that price while children below six enjoy free admission.
Groups of ten and above are also eligible to receive a guided tour in either Bahasa Malaysia or English if requested.
Upon taking the elevator up to the first floor, visitors will be treated to the first gallery which houses an unbelievable number of photography opportunities.
This first gallery is the Architecture Gallery which features beautiful dioramas of famous mosques and mausoleums from all over the world.
These scale-sized models include the holiest sites of Islam, the Great Mosque of Mecca and The Prophet’s Mosque, as well as the world-famous Taj Mahal.
Students of architecture are likely to enjoy themselves to the fullest in this gallery, which will undoubtedly give them valuable insights into Islamic architecture.
Adjacent to the Architecture Gallery is the Quran & Manuscript Gallery, home to books and papers that date back centuries, or even a millennium.
Even if one cannot read Arabic, one cannot help but be wowed by the beautiful calligraphy used to fill the ancient pages.
The gallery is also home to the largest Quran in terms of size, inscribed on a long saffron cloth, as well as an authentic kiswah, the cloth used to cover the Kaaba in Mecca.
The next three galleries are dedicated to exhibiting Muslim culture in India, China and the Malay world respectively.
Whilst the Indian section has beautifully-crafted silverware and weapons on display, its Chinese counterpart takes pride in its mix of unique Chinese Muslim calligraphy and porcelain.
The Malay World Gallery on the other hand displays just how Islam influenced Malay culture in all cultural aspects, including clothing, warfare, trade and architecture.
Moving upstairs, you will be surprised to find seven more galleries with beautiful exhibits awaiting your attention.
Entering the Jewellery Gallery, your eyes will glitter soon enough at the luxurious wealth before you, with exquisite jewellery from all over the Islamic world.
It will be hard to hold back the “oohs” and “ahs” as you take in the exquisite beauty of these pieces.
The Textile Gallery is no less fascinating, with unique costumes and fittings decorated with patterns and colours that you will almost want to bring back home to hang on your wall.
Visitors will also have an insight into the ordinary home of Muslim civilisations in the Living with Wood Gallery, which has stunning furniture exhibits.
Military buffs will love the Arms & Armour Gallery, which boasts a rare and impressive collection of weapons and armour.
From the Mughal daggers to Persian lances, from Malay keris to Ottoman muskets, this gallery is a testament to the military might of historical Muslim empires.
Next to it is the Coin & Seal Gallery which stores an array of coins from past Muslim civilisations, many of which are still emblazoned with the seals of the ruling sultans of the time.
The Metalwork Gallery on the other hand reveals the intricacy of Islamic metalwork, with beautiful brass and bronze pieces populating the section.
Last but not least is the Ceramics Gallery with its stunning selection of pots, tiles, tableware and vases, with designs that continue to have influence even today.
While these 12 galleries are permanent, the museum also plays host to the occasional seasonal exhibition in its special galleries.
Currently, the theme of the exhibition is “An Introduction to Islamic Calligraphy” which explores how calligraphic works have evolved over the centuries.
Lovers of modern art should spend some time here to appreciate modern renditions of traditional Islamic calligraphy, now portrayed in an abstract and artistic manner.
The Islamic Art Museum is truly a museum for all – it is wheelchair-accessible and has an Education Department and Scholar’s Library dedicated to educating students.
In addition, foodies can find themselves at home in the Museum Restaurant, which serves a large array of mouth-watering Middle Eastern dishes.
With so many long weekends in the month of August, why not spend one day to explore what this underrated museum has to offer?
In any case, the Islamic Arts Museum is certainly a place worth visiting to walk away with a better understanding of Islamic culture.