Preserving the past

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Updated 26 December 2013
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Preserving the past

A journey through the privately owned Bait Al-Zubair museum in Muscat is one into the past as the artifacts reflect the legacy of the period in which they were used, and symbolize the superb craftsmanship of those times. They are also mute witnesses to the social and economic prosperity of the past. The museum provides a crucial link between the past and the posterity of Oman.
The richness and culture of Oman is aptly treasured in Bait Al-Zubair Museum. Housed in a building originally called Bait Al-Bagh (The House of Gardens) amid the meandering lanes of mystical Muscat and close to the old Bab Al Kabeer (The Large Gate), the museum has one of Oman’s finest and most comprehensive collections of heritage items. Opened in February 1998, originally Bait Al-Zubair (House of Al-Zubair) served as a meeting place for poets, scholars and culturally inclined persons. Today, the building combines traditional Omani architectural design and modern elements, a reflection of its former owner’s interest in culture.
As I enter the museum compound my gaze falls upon an old Omani Town House, which graphically depicts the architectural style of homes and the lifestyle of its people between the 1920s and 1970s. It has been recreated using traditional material and design. The museum enables the visitors to step back in time and experience how people lived. Inside the compound you can also see the falaj, once the lifeline of Oman. Furthermore, the Arab dhow in the compound is a reminder of Oman’s maritime past. It also features a souq, palm-frond summerhouse, locally called barasti and Omani miniature village.
Moving inside the main museum, the sight of a treasure trove of heritage items neatly displayed and bathed in a glow of light feasts my eyes. It is Oman of yore encapsulated. Mohammad Al-Zubair, the founding owner of the museum, once noted, “The aim of the collection is not only to promote the value of Omani heritage but it is to maintain, preserve and study it, so that the future generation will be able to sustain their Islamic and Arabic identity and tradition.” — Wise words from a man who, increasingly aware of historical heritage, has painstakingly collected artifacts in order to preserve them for posterity. Sarah White, who played a leading role in the creation and later development of Bait Al-Zubair and who was the arts adviser of the Bait Al-Zubair Foundation and museum director of Bait Al-Zubair Museum, died recently. Her loss is greatly felt. She was a great friend of mine and was well versed with Oman’s cultural heritage and I felt that a mention to her is a must when talking about Bait Al-Zubair Museum.
Bait Al-Zubair’s displays encompass traditional costumes, weaponry, jewelry, household utensils and body adornments. Young Omani guides, armed with a sound knowledge of museum exhibits and Omani history, take visitors around the museum to explain the exhibits.
The vast repertoire of weapons leaves visitors spellbound. It tells the tale that Oman had a chequered past of fighting outside forces and dealing with intra-tribal rivalries. Prominently displayed are the khanjars (curved daggers in ornamental scabbard) in distinctive styles representing different regions. The ornate silver work on the khanjars varies in design according to where they originate. There is a spectacular display of swords, used as weapons until the introduction of rifles in the 19th century. Among the array of weaponry collections, a pair of handsome cannons, placed at the end of the gallery inside the main museum building, stands out. His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said presented the cannons to the museum at the inauguration.
The section that displays women’s jewelry and attire always attract a good crowd. In olden days, jewelry in Oman was predominantly of good quality silver. The exhibits here include a wide gamut of jewelry like the hirz (a sort of lucky charm box, which would traditionally contain a verse from the holy Qur’an or other script deemed to have protective powers to ward off bad spirits and keep the owner safe from harm and ill health), elaborate necklaces, head ornaments, anklets, bracelets (called bangeri or hajala), rings, etc.
Interesting displays in the costumes gallery are the orhaf (original platform shoes), amazingly high-heeled sandals that kept the feet dry and clear of dirt. Dishdasha (the Omani male dress), kumma (embroidered cap), msarr (head turban), bisht (the black cloak worn by men on formal occasions), etc. make for the male costumes displays.
The ladies costumes are elaborate, multi-layered and very colorful. Bait Al-Zubair Museum shows the regional differences that make Oman’s women distinct. Displays show variations of traditional female dress from Muscat, Batinah, Musandam, Sharqiyah and Dhofar.
Among the prized rare collections are the hand-written holy Qur’an scripts dating back to 1908, given to the Zubair family as a gift by a close friend; the title deed of the house, signed in 1914 when it was known as Bait Al Bagh; two soap stone vessels that date back to the third and first millennium BC; and swords dating back to 400 years, some of which were used by the Portuguese. The household display enclave features cookery items, furniture articles, incense burners (called majmars), coffee pots, pottery and artifacts that demonstrate Omani craftsmanship spanning centuries.
The museum is equipped with a moderate library offering scholars and researchers an opportunity to extend their knowledge of Oman and its cultural heritage.
The museum has produced three well-documented publications — the first launched in 2002 entitled “Oman, My Beautiful Country,” was the first in a series dedicated to highlighting Oman’s diverse landscape and promoting it as a tourist destination. It features the photographs and writings of Mohammad Al-Zubair, who is not only an avid collector but also an ace photographer. The second in this series is called “Landscapes of Dhofar.” Another book published recently, co-authored by Mohammad Al-Zubair and Professor Vincent McBrierty, reveals Oman’s development over the last six millennia and examines it’s past, present and future. This book is called “Oman, Ancient Civilization: Modern Nation, Towards a Knowledge and Service Economy.” Windows on Oman is the last published book by Mohammad Al-Zubair. The latest projects entitled Oman Architecture Journey took seven years to be completed.
According to Abdullah ibn Nasser Al-Busaidi, the communications and public relations manager of Bait Al-Zubair Museum, “The museum has facilities for private banquets and curator-led museum tours, staff parties, workshops and conferences, lectures, press conferences, meetings, product launches and commercial exhibitions. The halls for the purpose include the 200-people capacity Bait Al-Oud, 50-people capacity Bait Al-Dalaleel, the Barasti Hut and the Terrace.”
He adds, “Museum professionals have created colorful and lively PowerPoint presentations in Arabic and English that introduce a variety of topics relating to Oman’s history and cultural heritage. Each lasts 30-45 minutes and must be selected from the lecture menu and booked at least one week prior to an event.”
Bait Al-Oud (grand house), opened at the beginning of 2008 as part of the museum’s 10th anniversary celebrations. This three-story building contains a large temporary exhibition hall and reception area on the ground floor, while the first floor includes early European maps of the Arabian Peninsula and typical Muscati furniture. Lastly, the second floor includes early prints of the Arabian Peninsula and photographs of Muscat with an exhibit of historic cameras.
Bait Al-Nahdhah (House of the Renaissance) pays homage to the Renaissance (Al Nahdhah) period led by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said. It is dedicated to the promotion of the arts and was opened in 2011. There are four floors on which an ever-growing art collection can be viewed. On the first floor there is also a multi-purpose hall with a stage and state-of-the-art audio visual equipment that can hold 250 people, as well as other venues in the same building that take from 20 to 250 people. Exhibited is the work of over 30 Omani artists that form part of the museum’s permanent collection.
It includes artwork by some of Oman’s leading and developing artists together with international artists. There is a vast range of themes and concepts. Artworks have been collected over a number of years and some Omani artists also produced special pieces. A series by Mohammad Al-Zubair called ‘Our Beautiful World’ is also displayed in a series of photographs. Bait Al-Zubair Foundation is proud that this art collection, together with its collection exhibited in the main building of The Zubair Corporation and throughout Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa, forms the largest art collection of Omani artists in the Sultanate of Oman.

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World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide

Updated 13 June 2018
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World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide

Moscow

Both Tunisia and Iran are based in the vibrant 800-year-old Russian capital, renowned for its golden domes and stunning orthodox architecture. It is home to the famous Russian ballet and a wealth of art, culture and iconic scenery, including the breathtaking Red Square. A truly multicultural capital, Moscow is home to a sizeable Muslim community, which first began to settle here around the time of the Golden Horde. If you want to explore some of the capital’s Islamic heritage, visit the historic Muslim area, Zamoskvorechie, and head for the ‘Historical Mosque,’ built in 1823 by Muslim tatars. Reopened in 1993 after a lengthy closure under communism, the mosque has recently undergone a major refurbishment. Along with the 10k-capacity Moscow Cathedral Mosque (pictured), it is the capital’s most significant Muslim building.
Halal Food: You’ll find plenty on offer, from highly rated restaurants including Mr. Livanets (Lebanese), Dyushes (Azerbaijani), and Gandhara (Asian) to halal food carts.
Mosque: The Moscow Cathedral Mosque on Pereulok Vypolzov.
Qibla: South.

Saint Petersburg

Saudi Arabia’s national team will be based in this bastion of Russian imperialism, known as the Russian ‘Venice’ for its stunning network of canals, neo-Renaissance architecture and its plethora of culture, arts and all things splendid. Visitors can enjoy a wealth of museums, galleries, open promenades and the finest dining in the northern hemisphere — talking of which, sun lovers will be delighted to know that during the World Cup the sun will barely dip below the horizon. Muslim visitors should not miss the St. Petersburg Mosque’s sumptuous Central Asian architecture and mesmeric blue tiles (pictured) — a design inspired by Tamerlane’s tomb in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
Halal Food: Limited, in comparison to Moscow, but both Eastern European restaurant Navruz and Oh! Mumbai (Indian) have received generally positive online reviews.
Mosque: St. Petersburg Mosque on Kronverkskiy Prospekt.
Qibla: South-east.

Grozny

Egypt’s ‘Pharaohs’ should feel right at home in the Chechen capital, which is home to a huge Muslim population (its coat of arms features a mosque), making it one of the most halal-friendly destinations on our list. The mosque in question is the city’s flagship monument and main tourist attraction, the Ottoman-style Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque. Modelled on Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Mosque and sited in a serene location on the west bank of the Sunzha River, it is part of an ‘Islamic’ complex also housing the Russian Islamic University, Kunta Hajji, and is the spiritual headquarters for the Muslims of the Chechen Republic. Much of Grozny is still being rebuilt after being virtually destroyed in two wars with Russia in the 1990s and 2000s, much of it through investment from the UAE.
Halal Food: Chechnya is majority-Muslim, so you’ll be spoiled for choice, from fast-food chain Ilis to high-end restaurants in five-star hotels.
Mosque: Akhmad Kadyrov on Prospekt Putina.
Qibla: South-west.

Voronezh

Morocco are based in quiet (at least until the tournament starts), picturesque Voronezh. The city is littered with lush green spaces and stunning churches. It’s home to a large orthodox Christian community, as well as small Jewish and still-smaller Muslim ones. The city’s beautiful 114-year-old synagogue on Ulitsa Svobody is a popular tourist attraction. Those looking for more ‘familiar’ heritage should head to the Kramskoy Museum of Fine Arts on Revolyutsii Avenue, home to an impressive collection of ancient Egyptian works of art on stone and sarcophagi.
Halal Food: Very sparse. The Asian restaurant Bahor bills itself as offering the “only halal food in Voronezh,” and there are reportedly a couple of grocery stores selling halal meat, one in the city’s central market.
Mosque: While no official mosque has yet been built in Voronezh, Muslims do gather to pray. According to Halalguide.me, there is an informal mosque on Ulitsa Gvardeyskaya.
Qibla: South.

Essentuki

Essentuki, which will host Nigeria in its Pontos Plaza Hotel (pictured), is famous for its health spas and mineral water, so the 'Super Eagles' should at least be able to relax after their games. Muslim visitors may want to drop by Kurortny Park, where the drinking gallery was inspired by Islamic Moorish design.
Halal Food: Hard to find. There is a kebab house that may be able to provide halal options. Otherwise, head to the area around the mosque in nearby Pyatigorsk.
Mosque: The nearest mosque is 25 minutes drive west in Pyatigorsk, on Skvoznoy Pereulok.
Qibla: Southwest.

Kaluga

It’s all about space exploration in the city where Senegal will be based. Space travel pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky taught in Kaluga in his early years. The town’s main attraction — unsurprisingly — is the Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics, reportedly the world’s first space museum. Second billing goes to the rocket scientist’s quaint old wooden family home.
Halal Food: Very hard to find. Asian restaurant Chaikhana and Russian eatery Solyanka (pictured) appear to cater to alternative dietary requirements, and may be worth a call.
Mosque: The town’s main mosque is a converted building off Ulitsa Annenki.
Qibla: South.