Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia

by Ant Stone on September 27, 2010

in Malaysia

I knew it was going to be good before I even saw the first exhibition. The security guard was smiling right from the deeps of his eyes, and he was courteous and friendly from all of 10-feet away. This is a good sign anywhere in the world.

The Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, in Kuala Lumpur is infused with respect. Despite having travelled through many Islamic states and nations in the world, I now realise I have never considered the religion on a truly global scale, only as individual fragments.

Visiting the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia

This was no mistake on my part, as with all religions there are subtle variances on the theme. What the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) does very well, is to open your eyes to intricate detail of the Islamic art, and the relevance it has within the religion today.

It shows no bias, therefore the exhibitions incorporate artefacts from China, India and Southeast Asia, as well as the more famous regions of Iran and the Middle East.

The exhibits take centre stage in a spacious (30,000 square metres) white building, complete with some of the most absorbing ceiling domes you’re ever likely to see; and you should know, I am not one to flippantly comment on ceiling domes.

Dome Ib of the IAMM

The interior of one of the IAMM's incredible domes | Photo by razuryza

The IAMM remains my top attraction for Kuala Lumpur, and you’ll need to be in the right frame of mind to delve through the torrent of education. At the time of my visit, an exhibition called Treasury of the World was on display, showcasing a large amount of jewelled items from India’s Mughal dynasty. The period was one of India’s most prestigious, and led to many of the most famous sites in the subcontinent today.

The tales of the Mughal empire are reason alone to visit India, and this exhibition reminded me of many of the stories which riddled my time in the country.

Islamic Architecture

Perhaps my favourite exhibition was the display of Islamic architecture, featuring small scale recreations of most of the world’s most important mosques, including Saudi Arabia’s Al Haram Mosque in Mecca, and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, as well as India’s famous Taj Mahal in Agra. Seeing this collection together under one roof gave me a palpable sense of the importance these buildings have to Muslims around the world.

For example, I had always thought that Muslims prayed towards a specific cardinal point, and I now realise they pray towards the Kaaba, a large granite and marble cube, believed to have been built by Abraham and his son Ishmail.

The Black Stone, as it is commonly known, is the very reason for the existence of the aforementioned Al Haram Mosque in Mecca, but for me the most powerful image in my mind was that of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims who turn to face the Kabba five times a day (well, those that follow the religion to the max).

Imagine that from a bird’s eye view, next time you’re peeking into a mosque beneath the enchantment of the Call to Prayer.

I peered into brightly lit glass cabinets, displaying intricate reproductions of the Qur’an, or perhaps an arsenal of weaponry more likely associated with the Mongols. The IAMM displays carved wooden doorways and finely stitched cloth work within shouting distance of interesting metalwork, and the history of Islam in the Malay world and beyond.

Religious Beliefs

As I conclude this post, you should know that I still know hardly a thing about Islam. The same goes for all of the major religions and philosophies. My attitude towards religion can vary dramatically: some days I blame it for pretty much everything, but then I come across a temple, a mosque or a church, and I feel what it means to its followers.

It becomes much more than a headline-maker. Like a butterfly swerving the rain, religion can be one of the most beautiful aspects of a culture, and in turn its people.

I recently had a telephone conversation with a Wellington-based Hindu whom I met via Twitter. I asked him to explain Hinduism to me, and if there were any aspects I could bring into my own life.

He asked me why, and I told him: “Everyone seems to completely and utterly happy, despite all the signs saying they shouldn’t be.”

We talked for an hour, and he explained that most of the attendees at individual temples in Wellington come from the same Indian villages, and as a result, the community remains tight.

He left me with a list of internet resources, and I’m yet to look at any of them. Something tells me I’m not quite ready to face it. Meanwhile, I’m happy being an observer, and a large part of me believes I always will be.

As I walked out of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, the affable security guard threw me a blinding smile; I turned to him and shook my head, “Amazing,” I said. He gallantly nodded in agreeance, then opened the door and watched as I returned to the balmy midday heat of Kuala Lumpur to continue my exploration.

I had no idea where I was going next, and little idea of where I had just been.

The Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia is open every day from 10am – 6pm and is located on Jalan Lembah Perdana, relatively close to the National Mosque and National Museum. Entry costs RM12 (£2.50) and you should allow for at least 2-3 hours. Photography is prohibited throughout the museum.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Kassim Qureshi October 2, 2010 at 10:54 pm

I actually found the Islamic Arts Museum by accident when I was wandering around Kuala Lumpur in search of the National Mosque of Malaysia. The exterior of the building was awesome, and instantly grabbed my attention. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to go inside the museum, but I did take a few pictures of its exterior. My pictures are on flickr if anyone is interested:[email protected]/5043527423/in/set-72157624630903558/.

Ant Stone October 3, 2010 at 2:17 am

Thanks Kassim. If you’re ever in Kuala Lumpur again you should definitely make a point of visiting. So many interesting exhibits and artefacts.

David @ Malaysia Asia October 6, 2010 at 8:38 pm

Hey Ant, that’s a great write on the museum. As a KLite, I will come clean and admit, I have never been here though I passed this place over the many years I have been into KL city. I guess I should start to explore a little more of my own backyard, you know how it is… traveling in your own backyard 🙂


Jamela Garda December 6, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Hi Kassim,
Thank you for the great piece about the Islamic Museum. I am visiting KL in two weeks time and was told its a must visit. Thats when I started a bit of research on the net. I am so looking forward to it. I am Muslim and I am Malay. So it will be great to explore there. I will post a comment after my visit.
Take Care

Ant Stone December 6, 2010 at 10:52 pm

You’ll have a great time, Jamela. We’re looking forward to hearing how your visit went.

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