x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Draping of Holy Places: Sharjah museum displays fabric of Islamic traditions

The Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation shows collection of coverings from Kaaba and Prophet Mohammed’s mosque.

Part of “Draping of the Holy Places: Religious Textiles from Mecca and Medina” at Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation. Razan Alzayani / The National
Part of “Draping of the Holy Places: Religious Textiles from Mecca and Medina” at Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation. Razan Alzayani / The National
SHARJAH // About 670 kilograms of top-quality silk, 120kg of gold, 50kg of silver and a year’s labour of love and worship go into making them.

The kiswa (cover) that drapes one of Islam’s holiest sites, the Kaaba in Mecca, dates back to pre-Islamic times.

Examples are included in a new exhibition of intricately designed textiles from two of Islam’s holiest places, the Kaaba and the Prophet Mohammed’s mosque in Medina.

“Draping of Holy Places: Religious Textiles from Mecca and Medina” opened at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation on Tuesday.

The collection, on display until December 1, includes textiles that decorated both places of worship as far back as the 17th century.

They come from the museum’s personal textiles collection, some of which are being shown for the first time.

“We are presenting this exhibition to our visitors in honour of the upcoming Haj season and the Eid Al Adha celebrations,” said Aisha Deemas, director of executive affairs at Sharjah Museums.

“Through this exhibition and at this significant point in the Islamic calendar, we also hope to highlight the importance and potential of our museum collections in educating visitors about our Islamic faith, history and culture, and provide them with an inspiring and unforgettable experience.

“As this exhibition covers a topic that has been a central part of Muslim practice for well over 1,000 years, and is designed in a manner that not only celebrates Islamic faith but also Islamic culture and art, we hope by making it widely accessible we can encourage all members of the community, as well as international visitors, to engage with, learn from and enjoy the collection.”

In the 12th century a black kiswa, later decorated with intricate inscription, became common.

Production of the religious textiles was overseen by the Mamluk rulers of Egypt, Syria and the Ottomans until 1927. They have since been made in a factory in Mecca.

The production of one kiswa and a backup for emergencies takes a whole year and costs Dh17 million.

“This is the first exhibition made from our own collection, which include items we’ve not had a chance to display before,” said Dr Ulrike Al Kamis, strategic adviser for Islamic and Middle East arts at Sharjah Museums.

“And this is the first exhibition that concentrates on religious textiles. Most exhibitions outside the Arab world are only interested in displaying royal textiles or luxurious textiles in international scholarships.

“Royal textiles were traded and gifted and made their way out to other parts of the world, but religious textiles had more value in the Islamic world.”

Some of the most skilled craftsmen and calligraphers worked tirelessly on making the textiles.

The exhibition also shows the significance of certain materials and colours, and explains the reasons for using certain verses of the Quran and the connotations for the way they are displayed.

One piece on display is a metal-thread embroidered silk bag for the key of the Kaaba, made in 1987. For centuries, a special bag has been prepared every year to receive the key to the door.

The kiswa and key bag are presented to the most senior representative of the Banu Shayba, direct descendants of Uthman bin Talha, chosen by the Prophet Mohammed to guard the key until Judgment Day.

“I didn’t know about these traditions,” said Jamila Abu Hashem, 37, a finance officer and mother of one. “I always thought I had a close connection to my faith and the Islamic culture but some of these items are new to me.

“I’m really excited about going to see them now. I’ve been to Mecca a couple of times and the site of the Kaaba has always taken my breath away, so getting a chance to see how the Holy Mosque looked hundreds of years ago is definitely something I want to see.

“This is a great idea by Sharjah Museums. It really makes people feel closer to their roots and Islamic traditions, which is something we need reminding of in these tough times that Arabs are enduring.”