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JEDDAH: Islamic art is renowned worldwide for its unique, beautiful and exquisite floral, arabesque, geometric and calligraphic designs. It encompasses a wide range of art forms, including architecture, calligraphy, painting, glass, ceramics and textiles.

Its origins date back centuries and it can be found adorning buildings, mausoleums, museums and palaces built by empires throughout the ages in the East and West.

The recently opened House of Islamic Arts in Jeddah is a unique museum in the Kingdom, containing more than a thousand valuable historical exhibits from several countries. The exhibits reflect the diversity of Islamic art from different eras.

The collections, sourced from international auctions and private collections, are the result of years of hard work and research.

The museum was founded by Saleh bin Hamza Serafi, a Saudi businessman, owner of the Mohammed Saleh Serafi Foundation and shareholder of Bank Albilad. It opened on September 23 last year, after its license was granted by the CEO of the Saudi Museums Commission, Stefano Carboni.

The creation of the House of Islamic Arts is in line with the objectives of the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 development and diversification program, which includes plans to increase the number of Saudi museums across the country.

According to its founders, the new museum aims to be a center of information and scientific research, and a beacon of dialogue and cultural exchange by attracting visitors from all over the world.

“The idea for the museum was there seven years ago when Anas Serafi, the son of the museum’s founder, started collecting pieces for his special collection,” museum curator Mohammed Al-Kurbi told Arab News.

“After that, we started thinking about how we could develop it under the umbrella of international museums, because we wanted to build the museum to global standards.”

The House of Islamic Arts has six main halls, each devoted to a particular form of Islamic art.

“We looked at existing Islamic art museums in the region and around the world, and found that Islamic art museums are divided into five to six sections,” Al-Kurbi said. “Each section is about a different story and material that has to do with Islamic art.

“So we decided to have six different rooms in the Jeddah museum including: pottery and glass; coins; the art of cultural communication between Muslims and non-Muslims on an artistic level; calligraphy; manuscripts; and finally the textile hall, in which we focus on the coating of the Kaaba and the Mahmal.

He added, “We were keen to represent the leading art schools linked to each section, and we also made sure to include a masterpiece in each room that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. “

Storytelling is an important aspect of each of the six rooms. The Pottery Hall, for example, takes visitors on a journey through time to discover how primitive industries developed and how pottery was coloured, glazed, gilded, decorated and adorned with Islamic scriptures over time. .

The Textiles Hall highlights the history of pilgrimage caravans and features two unique examples of Mahmal that were used during Hajj between the 13th and mid-20th centuries.

A Mahmal is a wooden structure with no passengers, covered in luxurious ceremonial textiles and transported by camel as part of the caravans that took pilgrims to Mecca for the Hajj. It was used by the sultans of the ruling empires to emphasize their role as rulers or protectors of the holy places of Islam. It was used to store a Kaaba cover, gold accessories or embroidered textiles.

Two unique Mahmal which were used during Hajj between the 13th and mid 20th century.

“When we talk about textiles in Islamic art, we are not talking so much about the elements of textiles but about culture, heritage and values,” Al-Kurbi said.

Another important exhibit in the museum’s textiles hall is a red fabric with white text embroidered with natural silk. It was used in the time of King Abdulaziz as the inner covering of the Kaaba, or the “inner kiswah”. Currently, the interior covering of the Kaaba is green, and only two copies of a red version exist in the Kingdom; the other is held by the King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives.

“A number of the pieces on display are personal collections belonging to my father, who has been in the currency business for a long time and has an interest in collecting Kaaba curtains and rare Kaaba textiles, four of which are in the Jeddah Museum and not found anywhere else in the world,” said Anas Serafi.

His father also collects silverware, incense burners, swords and anklets, among other things, he said.

“My father still keeps a collection of silverware and rarities in his house, but only some of them are displayed in this museum because they represent very important periods,” he added.

In the exhibition hall dedicated to Islamic coins, about 500 coins are arranged chronologically. They date from the time of the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates to present-day Saudi Arabia. There are also coins from the Sassanid and Byzantine empires, which were used during the time of the Prophet Muhammad, as well as gold, silver and copper coins from the time of Umar Ibn Al-Khattab with the words “There is no god but Allah”. engraved on it.


In the exhibition hall dedicated to Islamic coins, about 500 coins are arranged chronologically.

“When people came to Makkah for Umrah trips and pilgrim caravans, many of the world’s rare coins passed through my father’s hands, and since then he took the opportunity to collect different rare coins,” said said Serafi.

“Many coin collectors would offer him these coins for sale and from there my dad created his giant coin collections, dating back thousands of years.”

In the Manuscript Room, there is an array of extravagant and ornate books depicting more than a dozen types of Arabic calligraphy. There is a rare copy of the Quran dating back around 300 years, from the Ottoman era, made by Ismail Al-Zuhri, one of the most famous calligraphers in the Islamic world. It showcases the beauty and craftsmanship of calligraphy through gilt verses and vegetal decorations, and is bound in tanned leather.

Serafi exclusively revealed plans for a number of exhibitions and other events this year to Arab News.

“About seven years ago, we had the idea of ​​having a museum in a mall that would showcase the culture of Islamic art,” he said.

“In addition to the House of Islamic Arts, two other museums are due to open soon. Al-Makktain Museum will explore the history of the Two Holy Mosques through the exhibition of rare images and drawings from around the world by painters, travelers and photographers.

“The Jeddah Gate of Makkah Museum will showcase the journeys of pilgrims from Jeddah to Makkah and the ancient caravan routes in the desert.”

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