In recent years, it is an all too familiar sight to read headlines of Islam associated with words such as violence, terrorism, and oppression. Amidst these words that have painted the religion in a negative light, its worshippers have answered in various ways. While some have quietly admitted defeat, others loudly demonstrated their convictions; Moustafa Fahour has responded in an avant-garde sort of way- he decided to build a museum.
In November 2009, the former corporate banker shared his idea with his wife, Maysaa and they recruited a small group of their friends to help them brainstorm how they could make this idea into a reality. May 5, 2010 marked the official beginnings of the Islamic Museum of Australia, along with its vision, mission statement, and governing board. Just four years later, it hopes to open its doors to the public on March 3.
The doors, itself, are a reflection of the museum’s invitation to explore the rich heritage and contributions of Muslims to the country of Australia and the world. What used to be a Thornbury industrial site located in the State of Victoria, Melbourne has now transformed into an architectural feat that combines Australian and Islamic styles in order to display its commitment to educate its visitors on the relationship between Islam and the world. One design element is a rusted Corten veil that is perforated with indigenous art, representing the first Muslim contact in Australia. The administration building is a “glass box” displaying purity and simplicity which is characteristic of Islamic architecture; while the front is marked by an excerpt from the Quran “so narrate to them the stories so that upon them they may reflect”.
That was at the foundation of the museum’s construction as Fahour believes “one of the most effective ways to promote cultural diversity and social cohesion is via the universal language of the arts and education.” By providing an interactive and experiential journey into Muslim culture, art, and history, one by one, the misconceptions and misunderstanding regarding the religion are being whited out; while a new fresh coat of proper understanding of Islam and a deeper awareness for its culture are being painted on.
The Islamic Museum of Australia, according to its official website, states its goal to “provide educational and cross-cultural experiences and showcase the artistic and cultural heritage of Muslims in Australia and in Muslim societies abroad. It aims to foster community harmony and facilitate an understanding of the values and contributions of Muslims to Australian society.” In its efforts to carry out this mission, there are multiple galleries featuring Islamic faith, Australian Muslim history, Islamic contributions to civilization, and Islamic architecture and art. Furthermore, exhibitions will allow the public to engage in Muslim culture first hand by encouraging participants to try on traditional clothes worn during pilgrimages to Mecca as well as to hear the call to prayer while standing in a minaret. The museum will even host a café serving Arabic sweets, light meals and refreshments, run by Master Chef 2013 finalist and Fahour’s sister, Samira El Khafir.
With the small population of Muslims in Australia, it is not surprising that Fahour turned to his family and friends for help. The 2006 Census reported less than 2% of the population identified as being Muslim-that amounts to approximately 340,000 total. However, what has been surprising is seeing how well received this project has been. Gaining the approval from the city council early on, Fahour was also able to garner funding from all social sectors-the Islamic community, government, and industry. He commented on the support he has received from other religious groups as “phenomenal”. What started out as merely an idea in one man’s mind to combat the stereotypes against the religion he practiced, through the help of friends, family, and community leaders, was able to blossom into a center for understanding and knowledge for all. That’s why hearing from Sherene Hassan, the director of education for the museum, that there were already 30 schools throughout Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia that were waiting to schedule a tour was definitely the news that he wanted to hear.