So, the countdown is on! In just a few weeks, I’ll be getting on a plane to start my next big adventure, and I couldn’t be more excited!
A lot of people are surprised when I mention some of the countries I’ll be travelling to (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and more), and question why I would want to go there. In my own research for this trip over the years, I’ve read other articles and blogs whose writers have been met with the same confused reaction. “But where is that? What’s there to see? Why??” Well, I believe the better question is always ‘Why not?’ But here’s a little recount of the moment I decided to commit.
I’ve always been interested in ‘lost’ civilisations, particularly those that we don’t hear much about. (See my post on Champa here.) The kinds of empires that were important and influential, but somehow lost out to Rome and Greece in their prominence in history textbooks – well, in English language ones at least! Mesopotamia, Persia, Champa, Chenla, Assyria, the Mongol empire, Pagan, or the middle Indian kingdoms; I never had the chance to be aware of much more than their names or their mere existence, and one or two interesting facts at best. I always knew there was more out there, and was always intrigued by this area of the world, purely because I knew so little about it. Through my university studies, I knew a little of the fabled Silk Road, the legendary route that connected Asia with Europe for centuries. Marco Polo first made it famous in European circles in the eleventh century, and for the last few years the idea of travelling it myself had been on my radar.
Back in 2014, I visited Malaysia. I’d heard a few good reviews of the Islamic Art Museum in Kuala Lumpur, and after first being introduced to Islamic calligraphy by a friend studying art history, I paid the taxi fare to take in some culture (a decision also swayed by the appeal of air conditioning in the humid weather).
The moment I walked in, I was in raptures. The exterior of the building was beautiful enough, but the inside was immaculate, and the domed ceilings covered in intricate patterns and lined with gold detailing were exquisite. I first fell in love with the architecture, and then the exhibits themselves. It was everything I knew I’d missed out on: from Chinese style ink brush calligraphy adapted to Koran verses, to medieval Turkish art, to North African motifs, or the explanation of different architectural styles across borders and eras. It was a celebration of all the different cultures across the globe that had been influenced by Islam, and the difference ways that it had been brought about. It was really the first time I’d ever been exposed to any sort of Islamic history at all, let alone to see such a vast array of Islamic art in all its forms.
Towards the end of the exhibit, there were scale models of some of the great Islamic buildings in the world. I was sold. The holy site of Mecca, Al Aqsa in Israel, Samarkand in Uzbekistan, Turkey’s Blue Mosque, the Taj Mahal and the Great Mosque in Xi’An. I decided, in that room, that I wanted to see as many as I could. The Silk Road was already on my ‘to do’ list, but it was suddenly bumped up to the top.
I hope that everyone will some day learn about all these different periods of time, the hundreds of different cultures spanning all continents and the different roles that religion (and not just Islam) has played in the every day lives of so many. In this current climate where Islamaphobia runs high, I think this museum truly takes leaps to combat that. To say that the Muslim community is diverse would be an understatement, and I hope that more people choose to educate themselves about it.
The Islamic Arts Museum also has an online gallery exhibit section. Explore their architecture exhibit without the plane tickets here http://www.iamm.org.my/vr/