Ramadan revolves around fasting, prayer and the spiritual reflections that result from these disciplines. Muslims from all over the world will be reading from the Qur’an, reflecting upon its lessons and reliving the historical Islamic days of old.
Tucked away in Manama is Beit Al Qur’an (House of the Qur’an), an elegant and peaceful abode that is an Islamic institution dedicated to the understanding and service of the Holy Qur’an and Islamic heritage. The building, with its engraved Qur’anic verses and slender minaret based on the 12th century Al Khamis Mosque in Bahrain, was founded in 1990 by Dr Abdul Latif Jassim Kanoo. Dr Kanoo’s career traverses an academic origin to many senior government positions, including the pioneering of construction schemes that steered many of Bahrain’s early infrastructure projects to success. Not to mention the councils and organisations that he has chaired.
Growing up in a prominent Muslim merchant family, Dr Kanoo was immersed in the Muslim way of life, receiving the standard religious instruction from the Muttawa. ‘I studied the Qur’an as a child, and this Islamic foundation has been integral throughout my journey in life,’ he reveals. ‘Over the years I have travelled the world and visited museums in European capitals where you have a separate Islamic section for the Holy Qur’an. As a result, I felt it was only proper and fit for a Muslim country to house and care for the Holy Qur’an; hence the inception of Beit Al Qur’an.’
He adds: ‘Bahrain is the only Muslim country with this concept; other Muslim countries preserve copies of the Qur’an in mosques and museums, but Beit Al Qur’an is a unique institution – there’s nothing else like it.’ Beit Al Qur’an consists of five major components. The first element is the majlis, Abdul Rahman Jassim Kanoo Mosque – the most important as it is used five times a day, with a prayer space for 150 worshippers.
A specially commissioned, large stained glass dome covers the mosque and grand hall. The ‘Mihrab’, the sign indicating the direction to Mecca, is covered in blue ceramic tiles with engraved Al Qursi Qur’anic verse, made for Beit Al Qur’an in Turkey.
The second element is the library, which contains over 20,000 books and manuscripts in three languages – Arabic, English and French – that are mostly on Islam. The institute does specialise in Islamic art, and many of the reference books have international importance. The library and its reading rooms are open to the public during working hours with internet access available, as well as providing individual rooms for researchers and specialists.
There is also the auditorium – the Mohammed Bin Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa Lecture Hall – which can seat 150 people, and is used for lectures and conferences. Guest speakers are brought to Bahrain from many countries, including the US, UK, France and Europe, and the topic varies depending on the forum.
The conference hall is often made available for general use for public lectures in cooperation with different societies and institutions in Bahrain. The fourth component is the Yousuf Bin Ahmad Kanoo School for Qur’anic Studies. This offers seven study areas fully equipped with computers and modern aids, with separate classes for women and children learning the Qur’an.
Dr Kanoo explains: ‘Finally, we have the Al Hayat Museum, with 10 halls over two floors exhibiting rare Qur’anic manuscripts from different periods, starting from the first century Hijra (700AD). These are manuscripts on parchments that have come from Saudi Arabia (Mecca and Medina), Damascus and Baghdad, as parchment was the medium during these times. There are special procedures we have in place for the preservation of these precious artifacts, to protect them from the ravages of insects and time. We also have paper copies on display from early periods to current times, including printed Qur’ans in Arabic and many foreign languages.’
There are two types of exhibition in the museum – those that relate to the Holy Qur’an coming from different countries, including travelling exhibitions, to general art and paintings, with a preference for Bahraini artists. Beit Al Qur’an also collaborates with the National Museum and embassies for special exhibitions, especially the French Embassy – offering exhibitions from France to Bahrain.
The establishment of the institute was totally funded and wholly supported by public donations, with added help from a variety of people from all walks of life, ranging from heads of state to school children. It is an institution built in Bahrain by the people for all the people of the world, to celebrate Islam, its culture and heritage. The facilities at Beit Al Qur’an are free to the general public, and there is a donation box for those that would like to contribute.