x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

First Islamic museum in Australia launches with great UAE influence

The Islamic Museum of Australia is the brainchild of an Aussie couple who live in Dubai and it aims to educate the population about the culture of the 5 per cent of Australians who call themselves Muslims.

The Dh32.8 million Islamic Museum of Australia, in Melbourne, contains many influences from the UAE, in no small part because the couple who created it live in Dubai. Courtesy The Islamic Museum of Australia
The Dh32.8 million Islamic Museum of Australia, in Melbourne, contains many influences from the UAE, in no small part because the couple who created it live in Dubai. Courtesy The Islamic Museum of Australia

MELBOURNE // A delegation from the UAE Government was on hand in Melbourne for the opening of Australia’s first Islamic museum on Friday.

The evening marked the end of a four-year journey to build the museum by founders Moustafa and Maysaa Fahour, an Australian couple living in Dubai.

The A$10 million (Dh32.8m) Islamic Museum of Australia in the suburb of Thornbury was declared open by Australian treasurer Joe Hockey.

Also in attendance was Bader Al Hilali from the office of Ali Al Hashimi, the religious and judicial adviser at the Ministry of Presidential Affairs.

“The support that we have tonight is phenomenal,” said Mr Fahour. “I heard a comment today where someone said that we as Australian Muslims feel proud that we contributed to this country.

“And to hear people from other faiths say the museum was amazing is, for me, the ultimate goal.”

The Fahours began the project in 2010 as a way to counter some of the negative stereotypes directed at Australian Muslims.

They then took the unconventional step of managing the project from more than 11,600 kilometres away after they relocated to Dubai in 2012, when Mr Fahour accepted a job offer from the construction company Leighton Holdings.

The move proved fortuitous, with the couple tapping into the UAE’s thriving creative industry to aid the museum’s completion.

They signed up Etihad Airways and Leighton Holdings as principle partners, and Dubai design company North 55 was enlisted to design the museum branding.

The Jumeirah Beach Residence shop Gallery One was chosen to supply the in-house gift store.

The museum’s audio-visual guides for each of its five permanent galleries, mostly displaying the contributions of Muslims in Australia, was recorded in Dubai Studio City’s JR Studio.

One gallery focusing on the tenets of the faith featured the call to prayer recited by music legend Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, who also lives in Dubai.

Sharjah was represented, too. The museum’s architect, Desypher Architecture Planning Urban Design, has its Middle East office in the emirate.

UAE elements could be found in the exhibits. Included in a gallery of the world’s greatest mosques is an illuminated panel with a large image of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

The imposing image triggered fond memories from the Australian treasurer.

“I spent a week in the UAE last year and it was fantastic,” Mr Hockey recalled. “I visited the Grand Mosque and it was immensely incredible. It’s really something that needs to be seen.”

Hailing the museum as “magnificent”, Mr Hockey praised the UAE businesses involved in the project, calling them an example of the country’s flourishing creative industry.

“Australia and the UAE have a very deep relationship with many ties, including the cultural,” he said.

“We are definitely brothers and partners.

“This project shows that the UAE is not just some place you go to on the way to Europe. It is a creative hub and a destination in its own right.”

Mr Al Hilali echoed the treasurer’s sentiments, saying the museum was an example of one of the country’s many cultural contributions.

“To see the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque up in that gallery next to such amazing sites as the Grand Mosque in Mecca and those in India, Iran and Morocco is a very gratifying and proud moment for all of us,” he said.

“I wish the people behind this museum every success. With Australian Muslims only forming 5 per cent of the population, I hope this initiative will educate many people about the faith, its history and contributions, and the UAE is always happy to support such initiatives.”

Samira El Khafir, last year’s MasterChef Australia finalist, launched her first cafe Modern Middle Eastern inside the museum.

For the opening ceremony Ms El Khafir cooked up a storm with a menu featuring innovative takes on regional staples including couscous and chicken tagines.

She said creating a menu for such distinguished guests was similar to her experience shooting a MasterChef episode at Dubai’s Atlantis, The Palm hotel last year.

“We were cooking to a lot of VIPs that day, so this brought up memories,” Ms El Khafir said.

“But tonight was much harder. There are no cameras around. This is real life.”

sasaeed@thenational.ae