Museum of Islamic Arts opens in Qatar

Designed by famed architect I.M. Pei


A new milestone in Islamic architecture and art showcasing the gems of Islamic civilization opened Saturday on Doha's man-made island with a spectacular fireworks display and music performances by world renowned Cellist Yo Yo Ma. The inaugural festivities brought together 1,000 of the world's luminaries.

The museum's collection demonstrates the diversity of Islamic culture, bringing together 800 artistic and historical artifacts from three continents dating from the 7th through 19th centuries.

"We want to show that Islam is a peaceful civilization, which has always called for tolerance and coexistence amongst different peoples," Sheikha Al-Mayassa, daughter of the Emir of Qatar, told journalists.

The guest list for the museum’s inauguration included the who’s who of the Arab world’s political class, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Mohamad Hassanein Heikal, an adviser to the late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, the award-winning American actor Robert De Niro and several Gulf leaders.

We want to show that Islam is a peaceful civilization, which has always called for tolerance and coexistence amongst different peoples.

Sheikha Al Mayassa

Exciting challenge

The $300 million Museum of Islamic Art is a five story-building designed by the 91 year-old Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei, who designed the Louvre pyramid in Paris.

Forsaking retirement to take up the hefty project, Pei told Qatar’s al-Raya newspaper that designing such a building was an exciting cultural challenge.

"The difficulty of my task was the richness of Islamic culture and diversity from Iberia to Mogul India, and the doors to China and beyond. I was aware of a large architectural mosque in Cordoba and other mosques around the Arab world which inspired this design," the paper quoted Pei as saying.

"The project taught me something about another religion and another culture," he added.

Tribeca in Doha

A day after the opening ceremony, actor Robert De Niro and Sheikha al-Mayassa bint Hamad al-Thani, president of Qatar's museums authority and daughter of the emir, signed an agreement to launch the first Tribeca Film Festival in Doha. The film festival is scheduled to run from November 10-14th 2009 at the newly opened Museum of Islamic Arts.

Co-founded by De Niro to revitalize cultural life in Manhattan after 9/11, the film festival aims to "play a role in bridging cultures closer together," the actor told AFP.

An apt venue for bridging cultures and civilizations, the colossal Museum of Islamic Arts marks the oil-rich country's efforts to make Doha the new Islamic centre of culture and art as it aims to be a distinguished artistic link between East and West.