If you have time for one museum, this is it
Published/Last edited or updated: 13th December, 2017
While we try not to be too prone to hyperbole, if you have time for just a single museum in Kuala Lumpur, then the city’s undoubted star of the show, the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, should be it.
Situated in a lush green enclave (we had a metre-long monitor lizard wriggle past us as we walked up the pavement approaching the museum), the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia is just a short walk from the National Mosque so it makes sense to visit both at the same time—beyond it, for those with children in tow, you’ll find the Perdana Botanical Gardens and the bird park—conveniently filling out a half-day excursion.
Established relatively recently in 1998, the 30,000 square metre, three-floor museum contains a beyond-impressive collection of more than 9,000 Islamic items, spread across a dozen permanent galleries and two special galleries. The museum declares in its succinct brochure “the aim is to create a collection that is truly representative of the Islamic world, with an emphasis on Southeast Asia and China” and we’d say they have well and truly succeeded.
When we last visited in late 2017, one of the Special Galleries was given over to a book-binding exhibition. It may not sound like the most fascinating of subjects, but it was! Learning each of the different methodologies that go into the creation of a single Koran was surprisingly captivating. All exhibits throughout the museum are clearly labelled in both local language and English, with informational sideboards delivering more depth as required, leading you through the museum hall be hall.
Exhibits include a vast collection of Korans, of all sizes from pocket-size to enormous, from across the Islamic world—this makes it all the more worthwhile to visit the book-binding exhibition first to help you gain a better understanding of what you are looking at. There are more books than Korans though. We loved the detailed Indian medicinal texts, the traditional medicine book (with acupuncture marks illustrated) and keep your eyes peeled for the astronomy and astrological texts from the Malay peninsula. There is also a small display on historical maps and old travel guides for the pre 20th century Islamic traveller—maps include Calcutta and Istanbul among others.
For those with kids, the Architectural Gallery, with its scale models of famous (and not so famous) mosques from around the world will appeal—be sure to see the 1:1 scale recreation of a mosque interior, detailing and explaining each feature. For example that the significance of the hanging lamp was a line in the Koran which reads “Allah is the light of the skies and the universe”. Who knew? We didn’t.
Other impressive collections include the Ceramics Gallery, with some just superb Ottoman tile specimens which we’d happily lay throughout our house. Look for the deep rich greens, blues and indigoes—close your eyes and you could be in Istanbul. There are also betel nut containers, rose water tippers, and beautiful plates, platters and bowls. Leave the kitchenware section behind and stroll over to hardware where you’ll find a very interesting, though not huge, collection of kris, armaments, chained armour, helmets, guns, spears and bows and arrows—some of which are really magnificently crafted. Still other galleries include textiles, coins and seals, and living with wood.
The museum also hosts a large gift shop and restaurant, and, as you could easily spend a couple of hours with the main exhibits alone, it makes sense to perhaps bring an empty stomach and have something to eat after exploring the exhibitions—other eating options nearby are slim.
Overall, the museum is excellent value and well worth at an absolute minimum, an hour of your time. Combine it with the nearby National Mosque and perhaps the Botanical Gardens and you’re well on the way to filling a day. Highly recommended.
Address: Jalan Lembah Perdana
T: (03) 2274 2020; F: (03) 2274 0529;
Coordinates (for GPS): 101º41'23.08" E, 3º8'30.52" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Admission: Adults 14 ringgit kids 7 ringgit 12/6 ringgit when Special Galleries closed)
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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