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Islamic art exhibit opens at BYU's Museum of Art

PROVO — It’s the largest project the BYU Museum of Art has ever tackled. And after three and a half years, the groundbreaking exhibit of Islamic art is ready to help build bridges between cultures.

The exhibit titled “Beauty and Belief: Crossing Bridges with the Arts of Islamic Culture" opened Feb. 24 and runs through Sept. 29. It's a rare opportunity to see a collection of art that defines a faith, its culture and the creativity and talents of its people.

Like stepping back in time, visitors to a new exhibit walk through the art and culture of Islam. Works from as long ago as the seventh century, from 10 nations and more than 40 private donors have been brought together to create an atmosphere of "Beauty and Belief." Visitors pass from one area of the exhibit to another through arches or bridges.

“When you are trying to cross bridges, these bridges really need to be crossed between people who are different, but who also have a lot to share,” explained project director Sabiha Al Khemir.

Each room has different colors, signifying different ideas, like light, which leads to knowledge. The exhibit, which stretches over 16,000 square feet, features masterworks from the al-Sabah Collection at Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyya in Kuwait, unique manuscripts from the Royal Library in Morocco and works from collections across the United States.

“When we have an occasion, we can bring people together, so we can understand each other and we are in one world, and we live together and this friendship is very important," said His Excellency Mohamed Rachad Bouhlal, Moroccan ambassador to the U.S. He says people better understand the Islamic culture by seeing the art, seeing what the artists have done and the message the pieces convey.

University leaders say the museum’s mission is to showcase art from throughout the world, but this exhibit reaches a higher goal.

“We have the opportunity to come to understand another culture — one that, like Mormons, have been misunderstood in the United States of America,” explained Stephen Jones, dean of the BYU College of Fine Arts.

Utah’s Muslim community also believes the world’s religions and the world’s people are connected. When people interact with one another with an open mind and open heart, we get to see that everyone wants the same things, said Tarek Nossier, a board member of the Islamic Society of Great Salt Lake.

“We want peace, harmony, love and prosperity and good health, good neighbors,” he said. “I think that’s really what walking underneath arches and bridges (in the exhibit) is truly all about.”

BYU is known for its Islamic translation series and for teaching Arabic, so having the exhibit in Provo was very fitting and strengthened the message of the exhibit.

"Here's a community who is very much into its faith, its own way of living and its own way of interpreting the world, but yet is prepared to look at a different way of seeing the world and to embrace with acceptance a different way of seeing the world," Al Khemir said.

The exhibit is part of a bigger wave, which is the groundwork that BYU has done in the field of Islamic texts, which is substantial in itself, she says, "so it all comes together as part of the whole."

For more information on this exhibit go to

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc