Friday, January 24, 2014

Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo Bombed

Asalamu Alaykom,

I've been sick this week while still going to work.  I woke for Fajr prayer but then fell back to sleep.  As I woke for a second time today, my husband let me know that the Islamic Museum had been bombed.

"Who would want to bomb the museum?" I croaked from my sore throat.

Of course, it wasn't the museum that was the target; it was the police headquarters across the street.  A huge crater now stands where a car bomb went off this morning.  The blast devastated both buildings and within that there is such irony.  If someone claiming to be a Muslim wants to attack those in charge of Egypt, they also ruin Egypt for themselves---not just for their lifetimes but for the future.  It's not only the loss people and of priceless treasures; it's also the tourist-reliant economy which will suffer.

The Museum of Islamic Art was my destination the day before Ramadan in 2010.  It wasn't simply a casual request to my husband that we go.  No, I was his headstrong Muslim-American wife who insisted that we go before we started our first fast together.  I think he had put it off until there was only the last day of Shaban.

I had read in my second-hand Lonely Planet guide book that the museum was due to re-open in 2006 after extensive renovations.  I was excited to connect with this vast collection and to feel the centuries of Islamic history enter in through my eager eyes.  The three of us, including a wily El-Kid, not yet 5 years old, left the house early.

We took a long bus ride into Cairo.  The streets sure were busy!  I hadn't figured on just how busy it was going to be with everyone shopping feverishly for Ramadan.  After getting out and searching around a few blocks, my husband couldn't find where the museum was.  We got into a taxi.  Actually, I think we had a fight before we got into the taxi.  Both of us were at the end of our ropes.  We might have even had a fight in the taxi.

After a convoluted ride around Cairo, we ended up in front of the museum.  I was so happy!  I had reached the end of my quest.  I was a good Muslim who honored my past and wanted to share it with my son.  I was...DISAPPOINTED!

The guard informed my husband that the museum wasn't ready yet.  Four years after its slated opening date, it was a little behind.  I couldn't believe it!  I actually (and very foolishly) threw my bag on the ground.  These days, I could be shot for such an action but back then my husband just needed to explain to the man why I was acting so weirdly.  I was very sad.  We went for a sugarcane juice and then home.

The grand opening of the museum started to be announced in the fall of 2010.

Here is the (then) Director of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, speaking about it.

There were commercials and banners hung from light posts.  I was excited!  No one was going to stop me now!

At school, I worked with an American woman and her Canadian husband and we had befriended them.  They'd brought their little toddler over to our house for dinner.  It seemed like a nice idea to arrange a museum tour with them and maybe some lunch after that.  Our day out together was set for next Saturday.

They lived in Maadi, which was closer to the museum, and though we tried our best to be on time,  they got there first.  They called us while we were still on the bus.  Yes!  The museum really was open.  I told them that we'd be there soon.  However, after twenty minutes, we ended up arriving just as they were leaving.

"Ya, we've seen everything," Jason said.

They were ready for lunch and I stood there at the doors of my treasure house realizing that I had to walk away without seeing a thing.  We turned around and set off for nearby koshary at AbuTarek's.


It was a great lunch.  After getting the family into a taxi back to Maadi, we could return to the museum.  This would be the third time of arriving at the entrance.  Would I actually get to enter in?

After depositing our bags, we were allowed in.  I walked slowly and carefully through the 25 rooms.  I realized very soon that it was alhumdulillah for the best that we no longer were with our friends.  This was our experience and not theirs.  We savored each artifact in a different way than they would ever be able.

I've always loved reconstructed rooms in museums.  I love walking in and feeling like I've been transported.  I can't find a picture of the room I really loved.  I'll keep looking for it.

They actually had a reconstructed courtyard which was an amazing place to walk out into.

Somebody should really have been serving juice out there.  It was a wonderful location for relaxing in the sun.

I really longed for all the woodwork which was on display.  It was so well designed!


Another thing I remember was seeing the ancient carpet designs and really trying to grasp just how old those textiles were.

There were so many fragile items we saw that day.

How can anything so breakable last through a lifetime, let alone many lifetimes?  Yet, there it was in front of us.  Subhanallah.

The scientific section was really a source of pride.  Yes, the Muslim has contributed greatly to the advancement of human knowledge.  You can't walk through the displays and feel anything but mashahallah.

The keys to the Kabaa were also astounding.  Egypt used to prepare the cloth to cover the Kabaa and keys to the most important worship site in Islam were given for this reason.  Seeing them was so connecting to the Islamic world.  I was small by comparison to the scope of places, history and importance.

The colors, the designs, and the feel of the place washed over us in a really overwhelming way.  We had spent almost two hours taking it all in.

I was almost done when I noticed a man walking around with two Western women.  He was a guide or something.  Why were the women allowed to carry big heavy bags with them?  I watched them.  It upset me.  There had been a double-standard.  We were made to check our bags (which is understandable) while they were allowed to walk through with theirs (which was not fair).

I talked to a security guard and made my point.  The man who had been escorting the ladies turned out to be the Head of the Museum.  He tried to calm me by stating that they were special guests.  I countered that so was I.  I was offended that there were different rules for visitors and alarmed that he didn't see the security breach.  My husband was trying to placate but I was not having it.  No, you do not put priceless artifacts in danger.  I made my final point and left.

That was the last time we went.  Three months later, the Egyptian Revolution had me praying for the safety of all the people, places and treasures of this country.  Jason and his family left Egypt suddenly.  I realize, today, that we didn't take any pictures of that day (so every image you see has been my experience but not taken by me).  Now, it seems as if that one trip to the museum will not be repeated any time soon...if ever.

Tomorrow marks three years since the beginning of the Revolution.

Please say a pray for the recovery of this country.

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