The Express Tribune (Pakistan) | Aga Khan Museum: Decoding the Muslim past

“For the 30,000-strong Ismaili community that calls Toronto home, this museum is an attempt to demystify Islam. We need the mainstream population to, more than ever, see this version, as opposed to what we see on a daily basis coming out of the Muslim world. This is a large part of my heritage. I am proud of it and I want to share it with you.”

–  Alnoor Keshavjee, Toronto-based doctor who also volunteers as a museum guide

Express Tribune -International New York TimesBy Teenaz Javat / Creative: Sanober Ahmed. Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 19th, 2014. 

From the intricate detail on the wings of a dove-inspired incense stick holder on display, to the sheer grandeur and brilliance of the atrium and the glass dome, the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto is — to put in one word — impressive. 

Located on a huge swath of green space in northeast Toronto and designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Fumijiko Maki, it is a treasure trove of art that showcases the wealth and heritage of the Islamic world.

Having opened its doors this year on September 18, the museum has tapped into Aga Khan’s private collection, showcasing ancient books and hand-crafted manuscripts from the Holy Quran to Shah Tahmasp’s illustrated version of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh. An audio recording of the great epic is also recited along the alcove by the display for a complete sensory experience.

On AKM Volunteers

Along with state-of-the-art multimedia deployed by curators to enhance experience, the structure also makes clever use of sunlight, water and flora, to celebrate all forms of art, be it visual, verbal, written, musical or culinary. “While you can see just a few of the manuscripts on display, we have several in store as works on parchment need to be changed every three months for conservation purposes,” explains Alnoor Keshavjee, a Toronto-based doctor who also volunteers as a museum guide. To maintain the large premises, many members of the community have stepped forward to act as volunteers, dedicating countless hours to studying the collection, he says. “We took lessons from our curators just so that our patrons have a better understanding of what is displayed. So don’t be surprised as you move along to find a teacher, lawyer or a student taking time off to work in the service of the Aga Khan,” he adds.

On AKM’s Mandate

From the Near East and its individualised offshoots in North Africa to the Iranian world that stretches from modern-day Iran through Afghanistan and Central Asia and the Hindustani courts of India and Pakistan to the Muslim communities of China, everything has been covered said Henry S Kim, the director and CEO of the Aga Khan Museum  during his welcome remarks at the opening ceremony. The mandate of the museum is to educate and inspire, while illustrating the true artistic diversity of Islamic civilisations. “In my opinion, it is important to explain Islam from a cultural point of view, especially to the Western world.

On AKM’s Current Exhibit

Upon advancing from the museum’s permanent collection to the two temporary exhibits, In Search of the Artist and The Garden of Ideas, one cannot help but notice a huge carpet hanging from the ceiling in the museum’s wide atrium. A closer inspection reveals that it is decorated with 1.2 million gold and silver pins, all of which were placed by hand. The exhibit Your Way Begins on the Other Side was commissioned by the museum and is the work of Aisha Khalid from Lahore.

On AKM’s Diwan Café & Cuisine

The tour of the museum and the Islamic centre should be wrapped up with a meal at the museum’s Diwan café that has a distinct middle-eastern décor and cuisine. Their Moroccan eggplant sandwich and Persian pomegranate salad is bound to transport you to North Africa and Iran whilst sitting in the heart of Canada. And transporting people to far off lands without physically leaving Toronto is perhaps the museum’s greatest achievement.

Via Aga Khan Museum: Decoding the Muslim past – The Express Tribune

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