The stoic building is a block of sand-colored stone, carved intricately with Arabic lettering and veiled with a coat of swirling dust against the backdrop of a desert sun. The sound of the athan and that of children reciting verses of the Quran, leads to the doors of Beit Al Quran. It is hard to comprehend how the Gulf region of Arabia is saturated with transfixed Muslims and yet only one building is dedicated to collecting, maintaining and preserving the Holy Quran in all its printed forms. The Kingdom of Bahrain is known for its natural pearls, yet this treasure cradling over 5,000 rare Qurans, rivals any religious institution. Bahraini local Dr. Abdul Latif Kanoo founded the Beit Al Quran in March of 1990, enabling his local community the opportunity to showcase Islamic manuscripts and artifacts all under one roof. Many of the donated Qurans were originally from Mr. Kanoo’s private collection, and others were added over the years. The space includes a mosque, an auditorium, a library, an active Quran school and ten exhibition halls within the museum. There is no entry fee, but visitors are encouraged to slip monetary donations into a large box near the entrance, and everyone is welcome, regardless of religion.

Inside the building, the light shines, as large windows literally, and figuratively, paint the space with illumination. A seating area, with small wooden tables, is available for visitors who wish to sit and reflect upon their sightings within the small space.

Many visitors begin their journey into the museum by entering the Mathaf al-Hayat, which is a large wheel-chair accessible space, interconnected with ramps that lead the visitor gracefully to the second floor. Along the way, the Qurans are displayed in custom-made glass cabinets with fiber-optic lighting with monitored climate-control to ensure the manuscripts are properly displayed and preserved. The Quran School is located on the upper level of the building, with students enrolling to attempt to memorize or better comprehend Allah’s chosen words. The early Arabs orally passed on stories, but all of that changed once the Quran was brought upon the prophet Muhammed (PBUH). In order to accurately record the words of Allah, Arabic calligraphy was explored. The Qurans were basic and simple in form, inked on leather, wood and stones or bones. Then came the use of parchment, which was more expensive, without any embellishments.

The designs became more elaborate in the seventh century, with the growth of the craft, and became flamboyant, with touches of color, created from crushed semiprecious stones and vegetables, in the Umayyad period (661-750). By the end of the 11th century, manuscripts became highly decorative, and predominantly blue.

One extraordinarily rare Quran on display was one that was created in Tunisia on deep blue-colored vellum, inscribed in gold, and commissioned by the Abbasid caliph al Ma’mun to commemorate his father. This piece was believed to be one of only three existing manuscripts to have been written during that time period on colored parchment. The Qurans on display include a tiny manuscript measuring a mere 43 millimeters across, which was originally favored by travelers, and displayed with a microscope to assist readers. On the other end of the size spectrum, the museum displays extra large pages measuring 75 by 50 centimeters, reportedly from the Mamluk period (12-50-1517). Since Arabic is not spoken in all Islamic nations, many Quranic verses were translated, often printed alongside the Arabic lines within the same page. Beit Al Quran offers a glimpse of such extraordinary books, stacked in a high shelf enclosed within a glass case. Nearby, on the walls, modern paintings by the current generation of artists are on display. The museum offers permanent and visiting exhibitions, and began selling Eid greeting cards in 2008 to raise funds for the center and to promote Islamic art. “The institute serves as a custodian of Islamic traditions for future generations,” Mr. Kanoo is quoted to have said.

 

Location: The Business District in Manama, Bahrain
Hours of Operation: Sat-Wed 9:00-12:00 and 16:00-18:00; Thu 9:00-12:30
Tel: +973 290-101
Entry fee: Free; donations are welcome