Islam in Asia: Diversity in Past and Present, Vistor Experience
by Deborah Membreno
Cornell’s current Echols Collection Exhibit, Islam in Asia: Diversity in Past and Present is available for viewing through April 2017. Located in Kroch Library’s Division of Asia Collections, the display brings together Muslim art, media, photographs, political literature, prints, maps, and artifacts from countries in Asia such as Indonesia, Thailand, China, Malaysia, and Singapore.
The exhibit showcases various maps highlighting Islam’s influence around the world. One map, “The Silk Road,” outlines the paths travelled by traders, many of whom were Muslims from Eurasia. Traders exchanged religion and culture with millions of people in regions including Central Asia and East Asia. Newer maps show data on the current and growing presence of Muslims in Asia. China, for example, has a higher population of Muslims than Syria and about 60% of the global Muslim population is in Asia. Additionally, the map “Islam in South-eastern Asia” projects that by 2020, 87% of Indonesians and 66% of Malaysians will identify as Muslim.
The maps are complemented by artifacts organized by time and location. This timeline dates Islam’s influence in Southeast Asia to as early as the 12th century and illustrates how it spread through merchants, traders, and scholars. Southeast Asia has become known as the “Muslim archipelago” because of the prominence of Islam in the region. In the exhibit, Islam’s long historical significance is displayed through images of Indo-Islamic architecture, Singapore’s periodical The Muslim Reader, and an image of 20,000 people at the largest mosque in Southeast Asia, Istiqual Mosque in Jakarta. Among a wide array of artifacts, the collection includes a Qu’ran in Chinese and Arabic, and Chinese stamps with images of the Muslim minority.
To engage with the collection, visitors including staff and students are encouraged to write a note reflecting on their exhibit experience. Examples of reflection questions include “What would you want your friends to know about Islam in Asia?” and “What information in the exhibit surprised you the most?” Short responses can be posted onto the branches of a printed poster tree. Many comments express the beauty of the exhibit as a whole as well as an appreciation for individual artifacts and a sense that the exhibit accurately showcases and validates the influences of Islam in Asia.
Islam in Asia: Diversity in Past and Present asks visitors to challenge what they know about Islam, its followers, and its history and culture. Viewers are asked to consider the information that may be absent from dominant discourses on Islam in the United States. A message written by one visitor reads:
“We need more of this on campus - meaningful representation and mutual acknowledgment.”