Arab Civilization: Our Heritage

Arab Civilization
Interactive Map

Community Courtyard : Ground Floor
Permanent Exhibit

Museum visitors experience the warmth and hospitality of the Arab culture as soon as they arrive.  A tiled courtyard with a central fountain and soaring dome welcomes guests to a permanent exhibit featuring Arab civilization and its contributions to science, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, religion and art.

One flight above the courtyard is an interactive map that provides visitors the opportunity to learn more about each of the 22 Arab countries.

The area known today as the Arab world is the birthplace of some of the earliest and most significant civilizations. The most well known is the Egyptian Kingdom of the Pharaohs, established in 3100 B.C.E. However, many other ancient civilizations flourished in this region.


The Arab World

Architecture in the Arab world demonstrates a vibrant and diverse history; Christian churches, Islamic mosques, and other religious and cultural monuments enrich the landscape. In fact, three of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World are located here: the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt, and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in Iraq.

With the coming of Islam in the seventh century (632 C.E.), the followers of the new faith sought to create structures that would both express their devotion and serve as places of worship. As the Arab-Islamic Empire expanded, architectural elements were borrowed from a variety of traditions. Mosques and palaces, urban centers and military fortifications met the needs of the new faith in innovative and impressive forms. At the same time, as Christianity continued to flourish alongside Islam, other communities contributed to the diversity of architecture in the region.

Like architecture, the arts of the Arab world represent a wealth of artistic traditions including the arts of Mesopotamia and Egypt, and Christian and Arab-Islamic arts. Artistic decoration adorned architectural structures as well as objects of daily life. Artists worked in a variety of media, including tile, sculpture, manuscript illumination, mosaic, ceramic, metalwork, and textile. Today, arts in the Arab world flourish as many artists continue to work in traditions of painting, pottery, and embroidery, as well as in modern media such as canvas, photography, and installation art.

With a history that extends back to antiquity, Arab music acquired a high level of sophistication during the Middle Ages and flourished as a performing art and philosophical and scientific discipline in the affluent courts of Damascus, Baghdad, and Moorish Spain. Following the spread of Islam from the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century CE, the music developed as a multifaceted art with elements from Syria, Byzantium and Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq, and Persia). Furthermore, through cultural and political contacts between the Arab world and the Medieval West, particularly at the time of the Crusades, various types of Arabic instruments and musical concepts were brought to Europe. Medieval Near Eastern theorists, including both Muslims and non-Muslims, became well acquainted with Ancient Greek musical and cosmological theories. Arab music has also been deeply influenced by Islamic mysticism. By the thirteenth century, Sufi orders had already accepted music and dance as essential components in their religious rituals and recognized them as vehicles for spiritual transcendence.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the three major monotheistic religions, all originated in what is known today as the Arab world. Monotheism literally means “the belief in only one God”. The central values of family, charity, and respect for others are shared by these three religions. Throughout history, these religions have spread from their birthplace, crossing the boundaries of race and ethnicity, with followers in nearly every country in the world. 
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