Top Islamic Art Museum Collections

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Museum of Islamic Art - Doha, Qatar

Museum of Islamic Art, Doha
Museum of Islamic Art, Doha. Getty Images / Merten Snijders

The Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) in Doha, Qatar is a modern, world-class museum that sits on the Corniche or waterfront of Doha, Qatar. The building was designed by famed architect I.M. Pei, who came out of retirement at the age of 91 for this project. The main building is five stories high, with a domed atrium and tower at its peak. A large courtyard connects the main building to an education wing and a library. The museum opened in 2008. Its founding director was Ms. Sabiha Al Khemir.

The 45,000 square meters of the MIA houses masterpieces of Islamic art, dating from the 7th to the 19th centuries. The ceramics, textiles, metalwork, jewelry, woodwork, glass, and manuscripts were collected from three continents over a period of twenty years. It is one of the world’s most complete collections of Islamic artifacts.

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Museum of Islamic Art - Cairo, Egypt

Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo
Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, early 20th century. Getty Images / Culture Club / Contributor

The Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo is considered one of the oldest and greatest in the world, with over 100,000 pieces in its collection. A total of 25 galleries rotate display of only a fraction of the Museum’s total inventory.

The Museum houses rare manuscripts of the Quran, along with exceptional examples of ancient Islamic woodwork, plaster, textile, ceramic, and metalwork. The Museum also conducts its own archaeological excavations.

The Museum dates back to the 1880s, when authorities began collecting pieces from mosques and private collections, and housing them in the Fatimid Mosque of Al-Hakim. The purpose-built Museum opened in 1903 with 7,000 pieces in its collection. By 1978 the collection had grown to 78,000 and in more recent years to over 100,000 pieces. The Museum underwent a $10 million major restoration from 2003-2010.

Unfortunately, the Museum was severely damaged by a car bomb attack in 2014. The attack was aimed at the police headquarters across the street, but also damaged the Museum’s intricate façade, and destroyed many Museum pieces.

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Museum of Islamic Art - Berlin, Germany

Museum Island in Berlin, Germany
Museum Island in Berlin, Germany. Getty Images / Patrick Pagel / Contributor

The Museum of Islamic Art (Museum fur Islamische Kunst) is located within Berlin's Pergamon Museum. Its collection spans from ancient pre-Islamic materials to the 1900s. It contains some famous and unique exhibits, such as the Umayyad Place façade from Mshatta, Jordan and a focus on the influence of Chinese ceramics on Middle Eastern design.

The collection ranges in origin from across the Mediterranean region, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Early Islamic history is presented through the walls, homes, and palaces from Samarra (modern-day Iraq), and the empires of the first caliphs of Islam. 

Other artifacts include decorative mihrab (prayer niches) from Iran and Turkey, a carved domed tower from the Alhambra in Grenada, and a vast array of patterned carpets.

Founded in 1904 as part of the Bode Museum, the collection was moved in 1950 to the Pergamon Museum next door. The Museum also serves as a research facility and library dedicated to Islamic art and archaeology. It also hosts special exhibits, such as the Keir Collection (2008-2023) – one of the largest private collections of Islamic art.

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British Museum - London, England

British Museum
British Museum, London. Getty Images / Maremagnum

The British Museum houses its Islamic art collection in the John Addis Gallery (Room 34). The collection includes approximately 40,000 pieces dating from the 7th century C.E. to the present day. The display includes a range of metalwork, paintings, ceramics, tiles, glass, and calligraphy from across the Muslim world. Some of the better-known pieces include a selection of astrolabes, metalwork such as the Vaso Vescovali, intricate calligraphy, and a mosque lamp from the Dome of the Rock

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Aga Khan Museum - Toronto, Canada

Aga Khan Museum, Toronto
Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, Canada. Getty Images / Mabry Campbell

The Aga Khan Museum was designed by a winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, Fumihiko Maki. The contemporary design is compact at 10,000 square meters, but includes two galleries, a theater, classrooms, and art conservation/storage space. The exterior walls are carved Brazilian granite, and light permeates the building. The Museum opened in September 2014.

The collection includes samples of Muslim contributions to the arts and sciences, spanning all periods of Islamic history, including manuscripts, ceramics, paintings, and metalwork. Famous pieces include the earliest known manuscript of Avicenna’s “Canon of Medicine” (1052 C.E.), a parchment sample of 8th century Kufic script from North Africa, and a page from the Blue Quran on indigo-dyed parchment.

Many pieces of the collection go on traveling exhibitions to the Louvre and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, among others. The Museum also hosts community events, such as music, dance, theater, and educational programs.

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Victoria & Albert Museum - London, England

Artwork from the V&A Museum, London
Tombs of the Caliphs, from V&A Museum. Getty Images / Print Collector / Contributor

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London houses over 19,000 pieces from the Middle East and North Africa. The collection dates from the 7th century to the early 20th century, and includes textiles, architectural woodwork, ceramics, and metalwork from Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and North Africa. The Museum also hosts the annual Jameel Prize, which is awarded to a contemporary artist whose work is inspired by traditional Islamic crafts.

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Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York City, United States

The MET Islamic Art Collection
The MET Islamic Art Collection. Getty Images / Robert Nickelsberg / Contributor

The Metropolitan Museum of Art received its first major group of Islamic art pieces in 1891. Adding to the collection through its own excavations, as well as through purchases and gifts, the Museum now has nearly 12,000 objects in its collection, dating from the 7th to the 19th century. The galleries were renovated in 1975, and more recently again from 2003-2011. The collection includes 15 galleries of pieces from throughout the Mediterranean region, the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, and South Asia. They are known for featuring artistic elements such as calligraphy, arabesque designs, and geometric patterns.

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Musee de Louvre - Paris, France

"Ruins of the Al-Hakim Mosque in Cairo" - Louvre
"Ruins of the Al-Hakim Mosque in Cairo" - Louvre Collection. Getty Images / Heritage Images / Contributor

A “Muslim art” section was first created in the Louvre back in 1893, and a dedicated room first opened in 1905. Early pieces were largely from royal collections, such as a 14th century Syrian inlaid metal bowl, and Ottomon jade bowls that were given to Louis XIV.

The collection was greatly expanded upon in 1912 with a bequest from a prestigious private collection. Further bequests and purchases throughout the post-war era enriched the Louvre’s inventory.

The creation of the Grand Louvre in 1993 allowed for an additional space of 1000 square meters, and another expansion took place nearly 20 years later. The new galleries of the Department of Islamic Art opened to the public in September 2012. The displays now include 14,000 pieces spanning 1300 years of Islamic history on three continents. Architectural designs, ceramics, textiles, manuscripts, stone and ivory carvings, metalwork and glasswork all can be found.

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Islamic Arts Museum, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Dome of the Islamic Arts Museum, Kuala Lumpur
Dome of the Islamic Arts Museum, Kuala Lumpur. Getty Images / Andrea Pistolesi / Contributor

The Islamic Arts Museum, located up the hill from the Modernist National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, opened in 1998 but remains a hidden gem in Kuala Lumpur's tourist quarter. It is the largest such museum in Southeast Asia, with a collection of over 7,000 Islamic artifacts spread through 12 galleries. The holdings include Quran manuscripts, samples of Islamic architecture, jewelry, ceramics, glassware, textiles, arms and armor. Due to its location, the collection has a wider range of Muslim Chinese and Malay historical pieces.

In addition to permanent and traveling exhibits, the Museum hosts a conservation and research center, a scholar's library, a children's library, an auditorium, a museum shop and a restaurant. I especially like the modern tone of the Museum's FAQ page.

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Museums of Makkah

Abdul Raouf Hasan Khalil museum in Makkah Province
Abdul Raouf Hasan Khalil museum in Makkah Province. Getty Images / Still Works

No listing of Islamic art museums would be complete without mention of the ancient artifacts to be found in the city and province of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage lists a variety of smaller museums to be found in and around the Holy Cities, and encourages Muslims to visit these sites when they come for Umrah or Hajj.

The Al-Haramain Museum in Makkah tops the list, with seven halls which hold samples of the , old doors of the Ka'aba, Quran manuscripts, rare photographs, and architectural models. The Makkah Museum further holds paintings and photos of important archaeological sites, ancient rock inscriptions, castles, and Hajj pilgrimage roads. It also displays information about geological formations in the region, early human settlements, the evolution of the Arabic calligraphic script, and Islamic art pieces such as plates, ceramic jars, jewelry, and coins.

In nearby areas, the Jeddah Museum highlights many of the same exhibitions as the Makkah Museum. Family-run museums in Makkah, Jeddah, Taif display specialized collections in smaller spaces that are often co-occupied by the owners. Some are dedicated solely to ancient and modern coins ("Currency Treasures Museum"), while others have a more eclectic collection of personal items -- fishing equipment, cooking and coffee utensils, clothing, antique tools, etc.

Strangely, the Saudi Tourism site does not mention one of the most popular museums in Jeddah: the Abdul Raouf Khalil Museum. This downtown landmark consists of a mosque, a facade of a castle, and the main buildings which house the home of Saudi Arabian heritage, the home of Islamic heritage, and the home of International heritage. Exhibit pieces date back 2500 years to pre-Islamic Arabia, and trace the various civilizations that inhabited and traveled through the region.

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Museum With No Frontiers (MWNF)

Museum With No Frontiers
Museum With No Frontiers. MWNF

This "virtual" museum works in partnership with the League of Arab States, to promote awareness about the history and cultural legacy of the Arab world. Launched about 20 years ago, the program holds educational and research programs at participating institutions, both public and private. Headquartered in Vienna, and with funding from the European Union and other supporters, the MWNF hosts a virtual museum with collections from 22 countries, publishes travel and educational books, and organizes museum tours around the world.

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Huda. "Top Islamic Art Museum Collections." Learn Religions, Sep. 12, 2021, Huda. (2021, September 12). Top Islamic Art Museum Collections. Retrieved from Huda. "Top Islamic Art Museum Collections." Learn Religions. (accessed June 5, 2023).