The Umayyad Caliphate integrated the Peninsula to a vast transcontinental empire which, from Baghdad to Cordoba, was the focal point of human civilisation during a period of European obscurity. Muslim Spain transmitted to the West many of the literary and scientific works of antiquity, which had been lost at the fall of the Roman Empire. Classical texts, recuperated in the Alexandria Library, were rendered into Arabic and then translated into the Romance languages by the school of Toledo. It was also from al-Andalus that the works of the great Muslim humanists and scientists spread to Europe, contributing decisively to the development of medieval knowledge in a great number of subjects: astronomy, geometry, mathematics, natural history, medicine, geography, technology, philosophy …

Islamic culture is an integral part of the Spanish historical heritage. At the beginning of the 8th Century, a few thousand men — Arabs and North Africans — entered the Iberian Peninsula through the straits. Thus the Visigothic Kingdom came to an end, the last vestige of Roman antiquity, and a meeting of civilisations began. Young Europe, an incipient mosaic of kingdoms in the making, entered into contact with Islam, a newly minted civilisation, ahead of its time and, at that period, politically united and booming. For over seven centuries, both worlds will coexist in Spain with long periods of peace and harmony and interludes of armed conflict.

The Umayyad Caliphate integrated the Peninsula to a vast transcontinental empire which, from Baghdad to Cordoba, was the focal point of human civilisation during a period of European obscurity. Muslim Spain transmitted to the West many of the literary and scientific works of antiquity, which had been lost at the fall of the Roman Empire. Classical texts, recuperated in the Alexandria Library, were rendered into Arabic and then translated into the Romance languages by the school of Toledo. It was also from al-Andalus that the works of the great Muslim humanists and scientists spread to Europe, contributing decisively to the development of medieval knowledge in a great number of subjects: astronomy, geometry, mathematics, natural history, medicine, geography, technology, philosophy …

“The Worlds of Islam” is an exhibition which tries to reflect, through works of art of different periods and geographic origins, the splendour of Muslim culture in all its diversity.

“The Worlds of Islam” is an exhibition which tries to reflect, through works of art of different periods and geographic origins, the splendour of Muslim culture in all its diversity. The exhibition highlights the pluralism of Islam, which can be seen both in the interpretation of Qur’anic faith as in the variety of styles, materials, and techniques, which characterises its artistic expressions. The objects exhibited cover a period of more than one thousand years and constitute a small sampling of the collections of the future Aga Khan Museum, which will be built in the Canadian city of Toronto and will open its doors in the year 2013. Why this exhibition and why create a Museum dedicated to Muslim cultures? In the first place, to correct the great ignorance of Islam which is widespread — particularly in industrialised societies.

There was a period in which Christians, Jews, and Muslims lived in harmony and shared a glorious intellectual and spiritual adventure. In Spain, Toledo was the main centre of this plural and prosperous civilisation, which promoted scientific progress, philosophical knowledge and artistic creativity. But time has eroded the traces of mutual understanding which was the basis of reciprocal respect.

I think that the periods and the societies which have considered pluralism as a value can be useful examples to develop a cosmopolitan ethics, a concept which could give birth to a civil society based on the principle of merit and capable of integrating the best values of the different units of which it is composed.

This is why the works of art which express the values of tolerance and pluralism, specific to the Muslim world and related to its ethnic, linguistic and social diversity throughout its history, are important witnesses today. I think that the periods and the societies which have considered pluralism as a value can be useful examples to develop a cosmopolitan ethics, a concept which could give birth to a civil society based on the principle of merit and capable of integrating the best values of the different units of which it is composed. This would be, in my opinion, the only way to understand pluralism and to build upon it, in any place in the world, a real democracy.

It is in Spain that the term “convivencia” was coined and its concept took form, as a way of life based on mutual respect and understanding, which allowed peaceful and productive relations between different communities. I am convinced that the future Aga Khan Museum’s central task will be both educational and humanistic: to actively promote, internationally, the spirit of “convivencia”.

His Highness the Aga Khan IV

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