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Last Update: 26 May 2017
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Islamic Art

It is believed that Islam was first made known in this region by Muslim traders and missionaries from Middle East, India and China. However, the history of Islam in Sarawak is closely connected with the history of the island of Borneo, especially with that of Brunei. It is clear that the government policy strongly influenced the position of Islam in Sarawak. The Sultanate of Brunei, played an important role in islamizing the people of Sarawak. The teachings derived from the Quran and the Syariah law shape the whole way of life of Muslims which also inspire their architecture and infuse it with Islamic values.

The main objective in Islamic architecture is actually to evoke a sense of peace, harmony, and humility. Initially, grandeur and ornament were not the aims. It was only as a later development, arising from the contribution of creative artists and builders, that a new dimension appeared, spiritually created through geometric patterns, colours and calligraphic design based on quotation from the Quran.

All such patterns and graphic designs were directed to the evocation of feelings of tranquility, and to the praise of Allah. The many works of Islamic art that exist are testimony to the power of this tradition in the field of architecture and also symbols of the complete submission of the self to the will of Allah, the Almighty.

Several magnificent collections of Islamic arts are being displayed at Sarawak Islamic Museum. Among others are the Door Leaves; carved wooden doors inscribed with Quranic verses and painted in gold and red. Panels like these were used for internal doors in the houses of aristocratic Malays of the 15th and 16th centuries. A screen carved with plant motifs and Arabic writing can also be found in the gallery. They were commonly used in traditional Malay houses. The screen with the height of 240 cm and 480 cm length is carved in such a way to enable light into the room and also allows good ventilation.

In the golden age of Islamic civilization various weapons were devised for the defence of the Muslim community, including swords, shields, guns and others. The famous heroes of Islam are the Prophet Muhammad, Saidina Ali, and Khalid Al Walid, were proficient in the use of these weapons. A deep longing for beauty inspired the craftsmen of Islamic times who made weapons, to combine the symbols of warfare with the expression of beauty. They depicted the qualities of the holy struggle and the glory of God, through the carving and patterning of every weapon they made. The lovely decoration and carving of these weapons make them unique and magnificent. Today, with Islam firmly established in the hearts of the faithful, these weapons remain as objects for display, reminders of the glory of the past.

Keris is one of the most famous traditional weapons among the Malays. For example the Bugis Keris found in Celebes in 17th century, is shaped in the peninsular style. The hilt is made of ivory and there is a silver pendongkok ring at the base of the hilt. The blade is straight with a central ridge.

The sheath is completely encased in carved silver: at the top, just below the crosspiece, there is a depiction of a human head. The bottom of the sheath has been broken off. At the back of the cross-piece, on the right is the word "Allah" in Arabic letters.

Islamic arts will never run away from Arabic Calligraphy with quotations from the Quran or simply the word "Allah" and the Prophet "Muhammad" written in Arabic letters.

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