Comprising of about 3 to 3.5% of the land in the United Arab Emirates, Sharjah is the third biggest emirate. We took a day trip to explore various museums there. Being students, admission to all ended up being free, to my pleasure!
Our first stop was the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization, which had far too much content to be taken in with less than an hour, but had some fascinating exhibitions on display.
I was particularly fascinated by an exhibit on Islamic faith that focused on the Five Pillars of Islam and had some cool photos of various mosques across the world. I spent two years working for the Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco and kept mentally making comparisons. The CJM became like a second home to me, and though I’m a proud agnostic, I loved the way it presented Judaism as very accessible and filled with fascinating culture and people who had created history. (And one of the main themes throughout all exhibitions was celebrating multiple perspectives, which had an enormous influence on the way I think and appreciate diversity.) This museum in Sharjah focused much more on various artifacts and relics as well as how faith should be practiced. In particular, I kept remembering an exhibition by Stanley Saitowitz that was at the CJM almost the entire time I worked there and displayed various objects associated with Jewish rituals.
This exhibit also featured many old and absolutely gorgeous copies of the Qu’ran. I instantly started comparing this to As It Is Written: Project 304,805 which, though it had been at the CJM before my time, I had been in love with where a female scribe had written a copy of the Torah as an exhibit. Just as she had put time and care into every single character of the Torah, these Qu’rans had had so much devoted to their writing. I was particularly intrigued by an anecdote about how people were reluctant to use printing presses for the Qu’ran as they were scared of it making errors.
I loved how the two museums, one of them new and one of them beloved, celebrating two very similar yet often conflicting faiths, could showcase these cultures from different perspectives.
The museum also had a lot of scientific objects and I enjoyed learning about the influence of Islamic scholars on medicine and astronomy in particular.
The Sharjah Heritage Area Museum provided a quick visual introduction to both Sharjah and the UAE as a whole. Though I wish I had visited it earlier when I had known nothing about the UAE, it was still fun to see how they portrayed their history and their society, and I learned some interesting traditions.
I wasn’t as interested in the Calligraphy Museum as I had been in the previous two museums; as I’m barely half a semester into learning Arabic, I wasn’t able to appreciate the intricacies and instead found myself wondering how people were able to read the ornamental scripts. Again, however, I was in awe of the way they celebrated their holy text, the Qu’ran, and of how much painstaking effort went into each page of the handwritten texts.
The Blue Souq in Sharjah was kind of anticlimactic. Though it’s the largest souq in the UAE, it felt like a shopping mall to me in comparison to the souqs I’d explored in Oman and especially in Iran. I had thought that in order to be considered a souq, one must be able to get lost in it; however, there was no way to get lost in this souq.
Before we left Sharjah, we saw a fountain show at the Khaled Lagoon Corniche.
The CJM might be my favourite museum forever and I definitely need a few hours to myself to explore a museum in depth, but I definitely enjoyed exploring some of the places Sharjah had to offer.