Conversations; International Museum of Muslim Cultures
In the year 7 11 an army of North Africans defeated the army of Spain and took over the capital city of Toledo. These mors as the Spaniards call them populated and controlled much of Spain for close to a thousand years. Hello I'm Gene EDWARDS And tonight on conversations we welcome Kolo Rashid who is the director of the International Museum of Muslim cultures here to talk about Jackson's newest museum and its premier exhibition Islamic Morrish Spain where they have you here.
Thank you thank you I'm very glad you were born and bred in Mississippi right. How did all this happen to you.
Well the exhibit itself you know the how did you how did you happen to get involved in this.
Well most of them and then most of them for the last at least 25 years. And this exhibit is something that relates to the history of Muslims. So of course when we knew that the majesty of Spain was bringing this great exhibit and we actually learned that they weren't going to talk about it but you know a particular part of history that we think is very significant not just for us not just for Muslims but human history. We're talking about as you say close to a thousand years that you don't find in many history books. So we felt like it was a story that needed to be told. So we kind of put together some expert team of people and we put the put together exhibit and just a few short months really.
It's like the old Mickey Rooney stuff. My dad's got a barn. Let's have a shoe. Right. Exactly and that fast.
It really was what December when you began it was when we initially started talking about the possibility of doing it. We developed the the plan or the idea and we actually launched it. Officially in January and you opened we opened our doors April 15th.
Wow. It's a communications arts people are they the ones who have done the exhibition Exactly.
They have their their experts and our opinion in terms of pulling this together did the sports hall of fame.
And they did the Jewish experience exhibition that we had here a couple years ago.
They have this wonderful sense of history don't they they don't they don't and telling stories that need to be told. They it seems as if they search out something that's very significant. They've done a lot of things on the civil rights as I understand it in Mississippi.
So when people go to see it it's not so much an exhibition of artifacts and items as you know not exactly really what we're focusing on more is content historical documentation and content information that's the mix or integrate it with artifacts.
Well let's go back and brush off our history books then. Let's go back to that seven hundred eighty time. It is remarkable to me and you know when we were over there a little over a year ago that the Spanish people still talk about it and revere that time because it was a time when when all of those groups of people got along and worked together.
Exactly. Kind of unheard of. Exactly. At that time I think those are part of what we talk about or basically the whole exhibit is exploring the significant the significant cultural as well as technological advancements that were made during that time.
And I think what we think is one of the most significant contributions was the cultural of tolerance that the Muslims in fact brought into human civilization as it relates to rulership because prior to that whenever any conqueror would come into a country they would primarily you know burn the books destroy the culture of those people but the Muslims did not do that in fact they cooperated with the people allow the people to continue to practice their faith to continue to practice their culture. And in that way they allowed also the people to integrate and to be able to contribute to the betterment of that society and I think that's what made Islamic Spain such a great. Country and its accomplishments just like in America it's the diversity. It's you know having all of these cultures come together and work together.
And you know for the betterment technical achievements that resulted were just amazing works.
Exactly. It's I mean I've learned a lot since I started doing the exhibit. I've been Muslim of course well over 25 years and we've heard this thing about Islam really sparked the renaissance of Europe. But to be quite honest I didn't know where that happened because you know in our history books when we talk about world history we usually get just a little bit about their world history now we were getting other than European history. Now you know it's getting better.
But you know I just learned things about the kinds of contributions that the Muslims made myself as I was doing the exhibit some examples are and philosophy and mathematics and science and text and art and education. We have you know information we have displays that really outline some of those specific contributions that were made during that period and there are still in Spain wonderful palaces.
Place was the better part of the culture from then.
Exactly in Granada Spain. The great Alhambra Palace city that we also acknowledge. Washington Urban who is a european that actually traveled to Spain in the early 1900s and he's really acknowledged in the exhibit as being one that introduced Islamic Spain to the west about way of Alhambra he wrote Tales while the Humber and he would send those stories back.
And in addition to that he was the one that helped to talk to the Spanish government to really restore the Humber.
So we have to make knowledge there in the museum. But having done that and now as we all know those that know about Spain and and that harbor in Grenada is that now you know the Spanish government is making millions of dollars you know on the tourism that you know that runs through there because of the Humber.
So tell me about people as they were you know you had this eye opening experience you had this wonderful enlightening and educating experience something about everybody else as they come through.
Well it's quite interesting. My husband told me why don't you jot down some of these things that we're working on developing up to so we can identify some of the incredible things that people say astonishing and astounding. Excellent. Overwhelmed. I can't believe that these are I mean these are some of the comments that people make. I have truly been educated at did not believe. I can't believe it I didn't know that you know these are some of the things that people are saying.
So that makes us feel real good because the whole idea of putting this together was that we had this burning passion I guess you might say to bring forth a story that we felt really needed to be told. As I said earlier not because it's something about Muslims and we're Muslims but it's because we see it in the context of human history. You know if we lose some part of that that's the you know if we can't then we lose lose some part of our sales something that could possibly advance us.
And there's a mystery to for the rest of us to solve. You know we don't understand it. If you didn't understand imagine what we don't understand.
That's true that's true. Thank you for to do this. Well this can be an enormous expensive undertaking.
It is we were very fortunate and that we had a good supportive you know Islamic community individuals and a few organizations from the Islamic community but also you know we got great support from the local government Convention and Visitors Bureau and back to help to fund this. The State Department of Tourism and the tribal bando chalta engines. We've got some contributions from them. The Humanities Council a number a little bit here.
Yes yes there's great exactly foundation. You're not trying to do porcelain ruin or restore a gondola so maybe you just need a little bit less. Yeah but you have wonderful items wonderful pieces in the exhibition. Tell us about some of the men and how they came to be here.
Well what we say to people when they come into the exhibit when they come into our welcoming area we say actually the exhibit started before you came in the door because on the House that the facade of the building we restored the facade of the building to reflect the Cordoba mosque. It has you know one of your textual designs that one would see the motif that one one would see right now it's in Cordoba Spain some people say a cotton ball. But that's the regional part of the exhibit that you would see as you walk in the building then when you come in the building then on the floor you would see imported hand designed Moroccan Talla handmade Moroccan Tao that reflect you know the artistry in architectural design of of that period. So to greet you is a wonderful water fountain. Tao a Moroccan handmade towel. Little bitty pieces that just this exquisite water and life you know had a lot of significance Alhambra Palace that we talked about earlier you know had lots of fountains and water and that was one of the things also that the Muslims contributed in that when they stablished the culture there they were able to do it and invent an advancement or on the irrigation system such that they were able to bring water down there via their mountain. Exactly such that the homes had one running water whereas you know in other parts of Europe you know there was none. But that's that's those are some of the things that you see I think some of the most significant people pieces that people are really Stannis with is that we have an 18th century piece that we call a memoir for us. So when bar members are and what it is a similar to a pulpit I guess and those things that would be in a pulpit this is the place that would then it's within a mosque we have about we call it a slice of the Cordoba mosque. And within the mosque in the in the Islamic community when the Muslims come to the mosque they sit on the floor and they're only elevated position is the Ma'am of the leader of the the prayer and the one that does selections of this number of pieces there that people are you know very amazed by and think it's a very beautiful piece. In addition we have this 17th century door. That also opens that really as a facade of the mosque within the. And we have some eighth century call ones that the Muslims introduced to the economy. So those are the best. And then also talk about peace is where did you acquire them.
Most of those pieces are from Morocco because I think that the coins were bought from a antique coin dealership. But the pieces came from Morocco because it was very difficult to get things out of Spain at this point. So most of our pieces.
Do you find that you're sharing crowds that you're sharing visitors back and forth. Definitely.
We have we have this interesting scissor GI going on now we've got Salvador dalí at the at the York museum we've got the Spanish exhibition we've got the the Spaniards in Mississippi over the old capitol Museum your exhibition and it's all kind of it's a wonderful ring as I go along Yeah you're exactly right and we we you know felt that it was important for us to have the exhibit at this time because we felt that the crowds that would be coming from the majesty of Spain in particular and then of course others would really spill over into those people that we were expecting as well so they mustn't be surprise these people who come in on buses from or from Toledo Ohio.
Exactly and if you think you know it's not me.
We say oh yeah we have a lot of that very loud. Your exhibition will will will stay up until the end of October.
Exactly how the museum is want to be permanent. We are expecting to bring in another exhibit once this exhibit closes. And how did you make that happen how does it come to be a permanent museum. Well we just made a decision to do it and we're just working toward that now. You know we this this particular exhibit we're looking at the possibilities of maybe making it a traveling exhibit and then we'll bring in another exhibit and continue to bring in the exhibits. But it's just a decision that we made that it was you know very important to continue to have something worthwhile worth raising the money worth making it happen exactly.
But you have good stuff there. As you said that's what's fascinating me because this next exhibition which will follow is in my mind one of the most incredible stories in all of Mississippi.
I think so too. We think so. It's called. Well this is not necessarily the title at this point but we're really we're focusing on a Mississippi story and it's about a Islamic Prince that was captured and brought here to Mississippi to Natchez Mississippi and enslaved.
He had actually been a slave for about 20 years. That just so happened by the grace of God that say that there was a European doctor that came to matches. And recognize him this slave Prince had actually been telling people that he was a prince he was an Islamic prince no matter how no one believed him they laughed at him but they did call him Prince. And when this European saw him he happened to be in the market place selling some. I think he had a low garden and he was selling some of his wares from the garden. And he of course leapt from its course embraced him. The relationship that they had had actually is that when Abraham was in Africa he Ybor him and his father had saved the life of this doctor when he was in Africa 20 years between the years before and he just happened to be in Natchez Mississippi.
And after that you know encounter then of course there was a whole movement to get him back you know freed and back to Africa. But it actually took 20 more years. And he finally reached the continent of Africa after 20 years of you know trying to generate the interest in supporting that kind of thing but he did get back to Africa and what happened to him once he got back to. Well he only lived about a year after he got back to Africa. But and I guess a part of the story though is to also connect the Africans to the African continent which you know many people have attempted to do. But we feel that we're going to be in a better position to do that because at the same time that the Renaissance were taking place and spending that was also this renaissance that everybody's been talking about in Africa but really hadn't had the condo background in the research that was needed to actually tell the story. We feel you know that we are in a better position to do that. So that's the exciting part because we'll be able to in bank shine a light on the Renaissance temple too. And the great accomplishments that happened during that time as well because as I said do in the time of the Spanish Renaissance then down in sub-Sahara Africa there was a renaissance going on great technological and cultural advancements were also taking place.
And all these things we just never know about have been known about this hurt a little bit about you know you know real background it's here you know it's there buried in our history books that a paragraph here and a paragraph there. When you go through some of the palaces in Spain it's amazing that there might be one room. There might be one section there might be one painting one piece left here. There one one little story left here and there.
You know if they vanish that you have a look I'm never going to thank you but I'm looking to go or you need to go.
Oh I'm looking again. You need to go and see. See some of these rooms and what they did in the sense that they have the reverence that they really had for the for what was going on during that time and the fact that all those people were able to get along. That's just the most amazing thing to me that all those cultures were able to operate together and think together and work together and and and and there was not the sense that there was a conquering race.
Coming it right I think I think that's the most important story for us detail today. I think that's why it's important for us to be telling the story because of everything that we hear now about Islam and about Muslims. Basically the media gives you such a negative view and most people are telling us that you know to be quite honest is that they just thought when they think of Muslims when they think of Islam they think of Iran and they think of people in the streets burning flags and and those kinds of things. And that's that's an image that has a lot to do with politics and that kind of thing. What we want to do is this show you know the history of the people and how it how those people are also connected to other people is just we just one human race that have different things that have happened in our you know our cultural experiences right that really have impacted all of us and that that's a part of what we want to bring about to have people to see see each other in that light.
Why did they leave. Why do that when I know what happened at the end of those thousand years.
Well there are two things and we have to as Muslims we have to be realistic and we have to be honest about it. There is a book that we have in the museum and it's it's it's that person by the name of it been cut down he's a Muslim that live around the 13th century in Spain and he wrote about the sea the rise and fall of civilizations you know in that time he's very well respected even in the West.
But most you know common people don't know about him. But what he talked about is how cultures are rats and how they become prosperous and successful and what causes the decline in talks about corruption you know coming setting rant and those kinds of things and that's the reality that the people in spying the Muslim they became too wealthy too rich and they do what other people do they would. They are just human beings. So that was that was one of the one of the parts of it. The other part is that there was all always that desire from all the groups. To you know I guess feel the sense of being conquered even though we said there was a beautiful cultural and social environment there. There were another group that still existed of the Christian faith the Catholics in the northern part of Spain that Willard was not a part of that. And as the other things the social decline began to happen with then you know Islamic Spain itself then it really allowed an opportunity for that group who had kind of you know been there and had you know certain kinds of antagonistic kinds of relationships going on all along began to come down from the mountain. And this was Queen Isabella and King costs six so I can't think of the name right now. But anyway so they got Ferdinand. OK so they came down and that was a part of them you know bringing on this thing called The Inquisition that most of us oh where where I mean it was just in you know just. And I read all the time. It was horrific and the Muslims and Jews and those Christians that hit even though they had not converted to Islam but they had embraced the culture and became a part of that culture.
They were with the killed or you know ran out of the country and the Muslims and the Jews were and backed ran out or killed. And about 49 too. There were no Muslims left. There were no Jews left and everybody that was there had to combat us that they were Christians or else you know they wouldn't be there you know. And so that really kind of ended. So my culture just disappeared.
So it was you know those people and their undoing both that it's interesting to me that the good that the Jewish experience museum here is working so much with all of you to make make everything happen because of what happened. Thanks Zach and all those years ago.
Right if you talk with the Jewish community they have. I know they have a lot more history than I had and they talk about you know that era in Spain as being not only the golden age for most of them but it was also a golden age for Jews as well. We we also feature you know some of those stories like for instance we hear about the renaissance man. We talk about one of the Jewish men or thoughts man. My money's in our exhibit and talk about the contributions that was made by him doing that time and also other you know contribution that we made about all this other than Muslims as well as Christians.
Talk to me about this culture here in Mississippi. You you have been of the Faith for twenty five years when you get right when you're five years and how many others and how did it come to be.
Well I'm I'm a convert and I converted 25 years ago. Right now this community we have a small community probably about 300 400 families maybe in the metro Jackson area. The the Islamic community really launched the museum called MEST at Mohammad and we have a very diverse community we have probably about. 10 to 15 different nationalities. And that's another thing that we cannot feature at the end of the exhibit we have like a kiosk. They can identify about 25 different nationalities just just do a just a brief introduction of who they are what their profession is and and the kinds of things that they you know are doing in this and the community and the society in that kind of thing so that people can get a chance to know Muslims because a lot of times people working late children go to school with. They interact with and they really don't know whether they're Muslims or not they just know that they're a neighbor or someone that they work with. So we want to let them see that.
What was it that spoke to you that called you to convert 25 years ago.
Hmm. Well I think it was just the whole movement that was involved in the nationalist movement more so than the just the civil rights movement the Human Rights Movement. And I think just my own just research and study. And let's see if I just was to say the one thing that let me to you know to be calm come Burdett I guess to Islam would be. The moral base the moral foundation and the way it's practice the practice of it.
Even though you know I was Christian but all around me and just the have the kind of support system to practice the but the basic values and principles was also lacking in man's arm and I'll just say that. And so and learning about Islam and I don't know some people say it may have been it's like a gene because you know we're finding now that and this is the next exhibit we cannot talk about that many of the slaves that were brought over were Muslims. Proud to that we didn't know we didn't know that this is some of the research that's coming out and so there are some people this thing it may be a gene or something like there might be something that you are buried and it's tended to be. Yeah something like that and that's kind of interesting I mean it's an interesting theory but you know that will have to fascinating.
So we have a minute left. Do you want this museum to be in five years.
Well what we say about the museum is it's more of a research and educational institute than just you know basic typical museum what we would like to see is. To be in a position such that we will have contributed to really integrating information into the curriculum. And getting a lot more improvements in terms of having a more a broader world history content than than what we have now that that's one of our major goes into just be a better educational institution in terms of just educating the public about other cultures and appreciating.
Thank you thank you for you having the exhibit Islamic Morrish Spain. And where is your museum.
We're located at 117 East Pascagoula street. We're really right next to the Mississippi Museum of Art and the planetarium. There's a parking lot and we're right next to that. Or you could say that we're just a couple blocks across the street from the majesty of spang pleasure to meet you. Pleasure to meet you too.
Thank you but much for having group what Thanks to you next time.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
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- Host Gene Edwards interviews Okolo Rashid, Director of the International Museum of Muslim Cultures located in Jackson, Mississippi. The museum opened its doors in April of 2001 with a premiere exhibition on Islamic-Moorish Spain. Rashid discusses the founding of the museum and its exhibitions.
- Conversations is a talk show featuring discussions with public figures in Mississippi.
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Host: Edwards, Gene
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- Chicago: “Conversations; International Museum of Muslim Cultures,” 2001-05-23, Mississippi Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 19, 2019, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_60-70msbm1d.
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- APA: Conversations; International Museum of Muslim Cultures. Boston, MA: Mississippi Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_60-70msbm1d