Embracing tradition

, CULTURE

With its wrapping of carved Kufic script, the distinctive Beit Al Qur’an is a fine example of modern Bahraini architecture

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who visited Beit Al Qur’an, wrote in its guest book: “The treasures are exquisite and tell us so much about the past that we need to know. I shall hope to come a third time.”

A short drive from downtown Manama is Beit Al Qur’an, one of Bahrain’s most-visited sights. Here you will find invaluable and rare copies of the Holy Quran and manuscripts collected, preserved and displayed under
the patronage of Dr. Abdul-Latif Jassim Kanoo.

A world-class museum of rare manuscripts of the Holy Quran, Beit Al Qur’an is a treat to the eyes and senses. A stained-glass dome, bathing the closed central courtyard in light, artistically carved mashrabiyyas, or latticed windows, and panels of tiny, kaleidoscopic tiles decorate this three-storey space.

The imposing biscuit-coloured building with a slender minaret based on Bahrain’s 12th century historic Al Khamis mosque consists of a mosque inside the premises as well as a well-stacked library. Then there is the auditorium – the Mohammed
Bin Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa Lecture Hall.

The fourth section is the Yousuf Bin Ahmad Kanoo School for Qur’anic Studies. This offers seven study areas fully equipped with computers and modern study aids, with separate classes for women and children. Then there is the Al Hayat Museum, whose 10 rooms on two floors, interconnected by ramps and parapets, consume the largest part of Beit Al Qur’an. It contains some of the art treasures collected by Kanoo: armour, ceramics, glass, textiles, scientific instruments, manuscripts, clothing and ornaments from different periods and from countries as diverse as China, Tunisia, Morocco and India.

The museum exhibits rare Qur’anic manuscripts and artefacts from different periods, starting from the first century AD, on parchments from Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, Damascus, Baghdad, India, Egypt, China, Africa and other countries.

There are too many rare collections … Rendered on beautifully wrought deep-blue parchment and written in gold in Kairouan, in Tunisia, the rare piece of Islamic calligraphy — a page from Sura 29 of the Qur’an—is said to have been commissioned by the Abbasid caliph al-Ma’mun for the tomb of his legendary father, Harun al-Rashid. There is also an octagonal Qur’an manuscript measuring only 43 millimeters. Qur’ans at the other end of the size spectrum include a 50 by 70 centimetre (20 x 27”) Moghul Qur’an in Indian script with an interlinear translation, each chapter rendered on a different colour of paper. Then there are Qur’anic verses written on a rice grain and a chick pea. Like Thatcher, I would not mind a second visit soon.

Words: Aftab Husain Kola

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