This beautiful building is home to a wide collection of art pieces from all over the world, all devoted to artefacts inspired by Islam's influence across the centuries. The Islamic Arts Museum not only displays artwork from the Middle East but also from nations a little closer to home, such as India and China. Just a five minutes' drive away from KL Central Station, the museum is nestled amongst other tourist destinations such as the KL Bird Park, National Mosque, KL Butterfly Park and Lake Gardens. Free parking can be found just across the road, and as I visited on Chinese New Year's Eve, it was fairly empty.
Founded in December 1998, it appears to be the largest Islamic arts museum in Southeast Asia, boasting a collection of more than 7,000 artefacts. Walking in through the front doors, we were greeted with the reception counter, part of a wide, marble floored lobby. We bought our entry tickets at the lobby (ticket prices can be found here), and were given a map each of the museum. The receptionist directed us to an elevator on our right, which we took up to the second floor, where the exhibit begins.
The first thing I noticed was how peaceful this place is; wide, open spaces and clean display exhibits accompanied by the low sound of a Qur'an recitation recording in the background. I was immediately drawn to the scale model of the Masjid al-Haram, which is one of the first things you will see as you come out of the elevator. Home to the Kaaba and also the largest mosque in the world, the detail put into the miniature structure is amazing, and this was definitely one of my favourite displays in the museum.
There are quite a number of scale model mosques on exhibit, while the walls of the gallery illustrated the history of Islamic architecture. From Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to the Taj Mahal, there were even some wooden replicas of early mosques built in South East Asia.
The inner dome above the Qur'an & Manuscript Gallery.
The artefacts aren't the only thing to be seen here. Take the time to stop and turn your gaze to the ceiling; the sight took my breath away. There are a number of these inner domes all throughout the galleries, a total of four if I'm not mistaken. This powder blue one was my favourite, located above the Qur'an and Manuscripts Gallery. There are 12 galleries altogether, spread across two double volume floors, encompassing ceramics, metalwork, coins, seals, woodwork, textiles, jewellery, arms, armour, manuscripts, architecture and three galleries for China, India and the Malay world.
The manuscripts on display are beautifully hand-written, with some of the exhibited Qur'ans dating back to before the 10th century. There is even a portion of the kiswah displayed at the far end of the gallery, which is the cloth that covers the Kaaba in Mecca.
While there is an extensive collection over the two upper floors, there are also occasional Special Galleries that display temporary artwork over a certain period of time. Unfortunately, I missed their special exhibits on Islamic seals and historical Malaysian photographs by just a week and a half. If you're thinking of swinging by, it's good to check their website to see if they have anything on at the moment. The entry prices are slightly different when there aren't any special exhibitions going on.
The topmost floor of the museum leads out onto a viewing terrace which also features the museum's main dome, a turquoise coloured structure adorned in Arabic scriptures and the geometric designs prominent in Islamic art. The terrace offers a gorgeous view of the Kuala Lumpur skyline - unfortunately, this area was closed for maintenance when I visited, so I didn't get the chance to walk out to see the view. I could see some of it from the gallery windows though.
After we were done viewing the galleries, we moved downstairs to the first floor of the museum where the museum shop, restaurant and courtyard are located. The courtyard is a warm and peaceful spot, and if you walk over to the edge, you can see the KL Bird Park just next door. I managed to catch a glimpse of some storks through the netting draped over the park trees.
The galleries upstairs aren't the only things worth looking at, because the museum shop itself was a fun place to browse through - the best part about it is that you can actually purchase what you like. From keychains to books to paintings, there's a lot to see in the shop. Behind the shop is a children's library that holds arts and crafts classes for kids as well as reading sessions. Apparently, they're quite popular for school field trips and the like.
This was a peaceful way to spend the afternoon, and the lack of crowds made it even better. I'm not sure how it's like on other days though. Even the washrooms were a delight - everything in there is marble, and it's very clean and airy. There's quite a lot to see, especially if you're interested in artefacts and Islam, and the museum layout gives this aura of tranquility enhanced by the large windows overlooking trees and the city skyline.
Wow...I'll definitely have to visit here when I next pass through KL. When I was doing my BA, I did a couple of essays about Islamic art and architecture, and I'd love to learn more. The Islamic arts are SO beautiful! This article is definitely going to be added to my 'to do' list.