Delving into Manchester’s Islamic Collections

A guest blog from Amy McDowall, our Primary Learning Coordinator

Manchester Museum’s new South Asia gallery will touch on the many religions and faiths of modern and historic South Asia: Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Islam to name a few.

Many of the children living in communities local to the museum belong to one of these faiths, and this adds a really interesting dimension to our thoughts on how we would use the new gallery and the Museum’s collection to talk about both historic and modern religion.

It’s really important that we understand the importance of artefacts relating to religion and how to treat them respectfully. So when a teacher from St Margaret’s Primary in Whalley Range got in touch to ask if we could support her Year 6 pupils’ historical study of Early Islamic Civilisation, we jumped at the chance.

Together with the Jenny, the Ellerman-funded project curator who has been working on these collections, and our fantastic conservation team, we chose a selection of objects spanning hundreds of years and thousands of miles.

The children investigated the objects with the challenge to choose which one to “get out of storage” (framed as “I’m a celebrity [artefact] get me out of here [storage]!”). They compared the objects from the Islamic world to those from other past societies on the Archaeology and Living Cultures galleries, by looking at both ‘form’ (the way things looked) and ‘function’ (which required some imagination!).

The pupils found many unique features in the objects from the Islamic world, particularly the inscriptions of Qur’anic texts on otherwise everyday-seeming items such as the glass weights. Perhaps unsurprisingly though, the most popular objects for “getting out of storage” were the shiny ones – the bowl and the scissors.

Ottoman calligrapher’s scissors (18th Century)

It was great to see how much knowledge the children brought to their investigation, particularly those children who were learning Arabic at Mosque school and so could read some of the objects’ inscriptions or explain to other children how certain objects should be handled respectfully.

We had some great feedback from the teacher involved:

I wanted to say a big thank you to you for arranging the whole workshop… [we] loved the fact children had to be historians and ask questions… There was a real buzz and engagement around the room

And, importantly:

[you] were very respectful of the artefacts.”

Saira Fazal, Year 6 Teacher, St Margaret’s C of E Primary, Whalley Range

We look forward to working more with Manchester’s collections of religious artefacts in the future, and exploring more South Asian religions.


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