The main reason for trekking out to Sharjah is to visit the superb Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization, which occupies the beautifully restored former Souk al Majara building along the waterfront, topped with a distinctive golden dome. The museum offers an absorbing overview of the massive – and often unheralded – contributions to global culture made by Muslim scientists, artists and architects over the past five hundred years or so, although some of the displays are irritatingly self-congratulatory, and occasionally veer into pure ahistorical propaganda (like the attempt to claim the purely Hindu Jantar Mantar observatory in Jaipur, India, as a work of Islamic provenance).

The museum is spread over two levels. Downstairs, the Abu Bakr Gallery of Islamic Faith has extensive displays on the elaborate rituals associated with the traditional Haj pilgrimage to Mecca. These are accompanied by a range of absorbing exhibits, including fascinating photos of Mecca, and a large piece of kiswah, the sheet of black cloth with Koranic texts richly embroidered in gold thread that was formerly used to drape the kaaba in the city’s Masjid al Haram.

On the opposite side of the ground floor, the Ibn al Haitham Gallery of Science and Technology showcases the extensive contributions made by Arab scholars to scientific innovation over the centuries. Absorbing displays cover Islamic contributions to fields such as chemistry, medicine and astronomy, emphasizing the degree to which Arab scientists led the medieval world (standard scientific terms like zenith, azimuth, algorithm and algebra all derive from Arabic, as do hundreds of names of stars, including Rigel, Algol and Betelgeuse). The sections on medieval navigation, map-making and stargazing are particularly interesting, complete with lots of quaint medieval gear including armillary spheres, wall quadrants and astrolabes.

The first floor of the museum is devoted to four galleries offering a chronological overview of Islamic arts and crafts, with superb displays of historic manuscripts, ceramics, glass, armour, woodwork, textiles and jewellery. Exhibits include the first-ever map of the then known world (ie Eurasia), created by Moroccan cartographer Al Shereef al Idrisi in 1099 – a surprisingly accurate document, although slightly baffling at first sight since it’s oriented upside down, with south at the top.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Dubai features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Away from the skyscrapers: how to find the “other” Dubai

Away from the skyscrapers: how to find the “other” Dubai

It’s big, brash and lays claim to so many world records it might even have the world record for the number of world records. But beyond the superlatives, skys…

22 Nov 2016 • Lottie Gross insert_drive_file Article
12 of the most beautiful places in the Middle East

12 of the most beautiful places in the Middle East

The Middle East is a paradox. Located at the cultural crossroads between east and west, the region nowadays tends to make headlines for all the wrong reasons, b…

16 Nov 2016 • Gavin Thomas insert_drive_file Article
A day-by-day itinerary for a perfect weekend in Dubai

A day-by-day itinerary for a perfect weekend in Dubai

Dubai is a city like no other. One of the world’s fastest-growing metropolises, it has been transformed from a small Gulf trading centre into a glamorous…

15 Sep 2016 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month